Biby Xantus was born in communist Romania in 1976 and spent the next 13 years facing the stark reality of living in a poor society behind the Iron Curtain. Xantus remembers that when she was a child, food was closely rationed and the selection severely limited.
“Sometimes for dinner we would have bread dipped in water with sugar and paprika,” she said, recalling that a Christmas gift might be an orange or a bit of chocolate.
Now Xantus lives in the North Tahoe area. She owns 2B’s of Tahoe Cleaning Service, and is married to lifelong Olympic Valley resident Ryan Adams. How did she end up in Tahoe? It began with falling in love with cross-country skiing at the age of 7.
Xantus was raised in Transylvania, a region of Romania. She is of Hungarian heritage, a sizable minority group in Romania. Since Romanian was spoken in school, one of her first challenges was learning how to speak the language, which was especially difficult since her native Hungarian is very unique and rather dissimilar to other European languages. While that language barrier may have been part of the reason she was never too excited with school as a child, Xantus was already an up-and-coming athlete by 7 years old and was recognized by the authorities as a good prospect to become a cross-country ski racer.
The communist system would handpick at an early age the athletes they believed had potential, and would enroll them in aggressive training programs. Xantus says her older sister was a top athlete as well, which likely contributed to her being chosen. Her younger sister also took up cross-country skiing, and eventually followed Xantus’s path to living in North Tahoe.
Xantus quickly fell in love with cross-country skiing and thrived in the grueling training methods used in Romania. As an introvert, she found cross-country skiing to be a perfect match for her personality, spending much of her time skiing alone through the woods. But as time passed, Xantus said, she found that “the group of kids that I started cross-country skiing with became family.”
The training camps she attended in the mountains continued for years, and Xantus would spend long periods of time without seeing her family. The athletes trained every day, almost all day long, running and roller-skiing in the summer, and skiing in the winter. When she began focusing on biathlon at the age of 12, a lot of additional time was spent practicing her shooting. By the time she was a teenager, Xantus had developed into a top-notch biathlete traveling to World Cup events. At 17, she captured a bronze medal in the Youth Olympics in Italy.
“Ironically, it was the restrictions in my daily Romanian life that got me to the Youth Olympics,” Xantus said. “If you have it all, you don’t feel a purpose. I could handle a hard regimen. Sometimes, I’d train until I puked. My upbringing had made me tough.”
With the fall of communism in 1989, her trips to other countries for World Cup events opened Xantus’s eyes to the wide world beyond the borders of Romania. She saw that other countries had the basics of life to which she did not have any access.
“Freedom was mesmerizing,” she said. “It was very good for me to see that you can choose a different life. That’s why I decided to come here. Maybe I was trying to go far away from home.”
Xantus said she “knew nothing of Tahoe” the first time she visited the United States in 2004. She saw a post from Northstar California Resort announcing job openings for snowboard instructors.
“Of course, I had never snowboarded. But the same mentality that took me to the Youth Olympics is probably what gave me the gumption to apply,” she said. “I told them I could snowboard, and then I quickly headed to a little hill in Romania to teach myself. It took one winter season, and then I came to Tahoe. The first moment I set foot here, it felt like home. Tahoe feels like freedom. I appreciate beauty and nature above everything, above money, and things — and that is Tahoe.”
Xantus ended up teaching snowboarding for nine years, spending her winters in Tahoe and returning to Romania or traveling to Turkey or New Zealand in the northern summers. In 2006, she briefly met skier Ryan Adams. They reconnected in 2011 and went on to marry in 2014. Adams grew up downhill ski racing, but Xantus decided he needed to try cross-country skiing.
“He used to make fun of cross-country skiers, and the first time we skied together he showed up in a downhill outfit,” Xantus said.
She ultimately converted him, saying that since Adams likes hard physical exercise and long bike rides, cross-country skiing fit in perfectly as his winter workout. “During Covid that was the only outlet we had,” Xantus added.
The couple became regular skiers at Tahoe Cross Country Ski Area, close to their home in Olympic Valley. “For us, Tahoe Cross Country is like a church,” she said.
They are friends with Tahoe Cross-Country Executive Director Ben Grasseschi, who suggested they join the board of the nonprofit that runs Tahoe XC.
“We were ready to start giving back,” she said. “I want to pass on what I felt as a child. That cross-country was such a great outlet for me being in the woods exercising and the quiet you find there.” She is very enthusiastic about all of the youth programs at Tahoe XC seeing that they help kids fall in love with cross-country skiing.
These days Xantus is busy much of the time with her green cleaning business, and she tries to occasionally get back to Europe. While she loves the feeling of skiing through the woods, she is happy to not be pushing herself as she did while training as a biathlete for 18 years. When she quit being a professional biathlete it was really hard at the beginning learning how to stop training so hard, she said. She even stopped cross-country skiing for five years because she couldn’t figure out how to enjoy the sport without the drive of competition.
Finally she told herself “Biby, just go out there and smell the flowers. Just go glide.” Now, she said, she feels she has finally reached a “Goldilocks” moment where she is doing the sport she loves, but for fun, and not to win anything. It was all about learning to slow down, she said, and watch the trees slowly glide by. A lesson we all could learn.