worldloppet continues in new zealand 31st of august with the Merino Muster race. MARY LEE, part of the merino muster committee says they welcome all participants as family guests to what they describe as their own paradise.

Worldloppet organizes some of the best and most spectacular cross country marathon races in the world. The circuit takes place in almost all continents.  Late August, it´s New Zealands Merino Muster that gets to shine. spoke to Mary Lee, part of the organizers and the Lee family that has played a crucial role for the race.

Mary, could you give a little background information about the Merino Muster race? How long it has existed, who started it, conditions (climate zone, etc.) for skiing in New Zealand?

-The race is 25 years old this year. It was started by the Lee family who were the owners of the Snow Farm and sponsored by the CSL NZ Ltd, a subsidiary of the International bio medical company CSL Ltd based in Melbourne Australia. The race takes place at 1400-1500 metres over the groomed trails of the Snow Farm and the climate is mild Alpine strongly influenced by the location in the roaring forties (weather/wind system, ed. note) of the Pacific Ocean.

Women´s victory podium in Merino Muster 2016. Photo: Merino Muster.

How many participants are normally taking part and where are they from?

-The main race has approximately 150 participants.  They represent all continents other than Africa. Australia has the largest group. but there are groups from Europe and USA also.

Can you describe the track profile? Distance, ascends and descends, and also the scenery of the track and nature?

-The tracks are undulating over a 42Km course which is at altitude.  It varies from a gentle climb beside a babbling Meg river to magnificent vistas of the NZ Alps in upper reaches of the third loop around Hanging Valley.  Views of the largest mountain in the area, Mt. Aspiring hover over you in the afternoon sun. It is special.

What are normally the waxing conditions for the race? temperature, precipitation air humidity?

-Rarely do standard conditions apply, and temperatures often rise during the race from zero to minus 5 at the start, to plus five by race end.  Humidity can vary widely but Snow Farm staff are very able to guide competitors on probable waxing conditions as well as provide a waxing service if required. Overseas teams also advise their nationals as conditions can be very variable. 

2018 Merino Muster. Photo: Merino Muster.

How easy / difficult is it to get to the Cardrona Valley and the race from international NZ airports, and is it better connections to/from any continents (than others)?

-Queenstown airport is 90 Minutes from the Snow Farm.  There are direct flights from the main Australian East Coast cities with a wide range of International connections.  Queenstown airport is 90 minutes flying time from Auckland, the main NZ airport with global connections. Travel from the airport is simple using rental cars but there is a bus service to Wanaka which has a shuttle connection to the Snow Farm.

Are there normally any retired or active elite skiers participating?

-Yes.  The American X-Country national team and often other European teams are training at the Snow Farm.  The ladies race has been won in the past by two Olympic X-Country Gold medallists and one Olympic Biathlete.  Worldloppet masters with extensive race histories are usually on the start line.

2018 Merino Muster. Photo: Merino Muster.

Probably many see xc skiing in New Zealand as a quite exotic activity. What kind of people locally take part in the Merino Muster race? Is it the adventurous New Zealander or another specific kind?

-Most local skiers live in the Queenstown/Wanaka district which is the heartland of adventure activity in New Zealand. Many are adventure racers from a range of other activities including a group of very active retirees.

Do you have any special arrangements for the Worldloppet Passport holders, or the participants in general before or after the race?

-Yes we do have special arrangements for Worldloppet passport holders.  They have their own information centre on the ground floor of the Snow Farm Lodge.  They have a dinner run by the organising committee to aid their opportunity to meet locals and a second dinner held after the race to ruminate on experiences, congratulate age group successes.  Worldloppet masters will also be given special starting positions this year for the first time. Worldloppet masters worked very hard to have our race accepted into the Worldloppet series which we have always been very appreciative of.

From Merino Muster 2018. Photo: Merino Muster.

Do you yourself want to add something, any particular sides of the Merino Muster race (or region) people should know, any memories from the race of your own, or other things? 

-The race sits at the heart of the NZ X-Country community and the Snow Farm is now owned by a Charitable Trust and the land the race is run over has been donated to the Local Council as a reserve to preserve the base for our sport. The Lee family who developed the race and the field always help the race operation and have never missed attending race day during its 25 year history.  They remain active in the Charitable Trust and in the race committee and its relationship with Worldloppet. With our smaller level of participation you are treated as guests of the family and it is for all of us a real privilege to welcome you to our well hidden piece of paradise that we have reclaimed from the Merino Sheep that the Lee family used to raise here. For us you are not a bib number but a potential friend.  Not enjoying your visit is our view of a crime.

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