Tales from the Trails: Cross-country ski events in the Outaouais

Published on November 14 2018

Thinking about entering a cross-country ski competition but not sure which one to choose? Two intrepid women have participated in the Canadian Ski Marathon and the Gatineau Loppet, respectively. Here’s their report on their experience.

Who knows? Maybe you’ll do both!

Véronique and her father

VÉRONIQUE AT THE CANADIAN SKI MARATHON (CSM)

“I love cross-country skiing, and I wanted to test myself,”says Véronique. The young mother has participated in three CSMs, always accompanied: the first time she went with friends, the second with her sister and her father, and the third with her father, who’s 70 years old!

Each year she added a few kilometres to her personal challenge. The first year she completed two sections (about 14K each) over two days; the second year, four sections (30K); and the third, six sections (90K). And the challenges of motherhood didn’t slow her down a bit. “The first time, I was pregnant with my daughter; the second time, I was nursing—my boyfriend waited for me with the baby between sections; and the third time, I was pregnant with my son!”

HER FIRST IMPRESSION

“It’s huge,” says Véronique. “It’s pretty crowded, but the atmosphere is great: everyone is happy to be there. And there’s such a wide range of skiers! From the coureurs des bois who complete the entire 160K trail to little kids who ski 15K, everyone is really friendly!” It’s also very well organized, with an impressive army of volunteers to direct participants to the various sections of the trail.

“Another thing I like is that it’s not a mad dash to the starting line. Unlike a traditional marathon, you start whenever it suits you and go at your own pace. You can even stop right in the middle of the course to take a break, because it’s not a timed competition,” explains Véronique.

HOW TO PREPARE

“If this is your first time, I recommend you sign up for the CSM-Taster category and ski the last two sections,” advises Véronique. “You cross the finish line, you’re welcomed like a hero—it’s really fun. Most important, don’t rush or stress out. And make sure your boots fit properly—you don’t want to get blisters!”

HER FONDEST MEMORY

“Crossing the finish line. They announce your name, your bib number and the number of kilometres you skied. It’s a very proud moment.” Véronique also praises the beauty of the landscape. A trail that’s open only once a year, specifically for this event, through the hilly countryside of the Petite-Nation is pretty special.

GOOD TO KNOW

·        Allow about 2 hours per section if you ski at a good pace.

·        There are toilets, water and food at each section.

Louise (right) in good company

LOUISE AT THE GATINEAU LOPPET

Louise is passionate about cross-country skiing, and her enthusiasm is evident and contagious. She first tried the sport as a 24-year-old student at Laval University. “I liked it right away,” she recalls.

“It’s an inexpensive way to enjoy the winter. In one hour your training is done. You’re outdoors in nature, you have time to think, it’s quite exhilarating. I’ve made a lot of friends through this sport. I even met my husband, who was my university ski coach. We had two children together!”

HER FIRST IMPRESSION

Louise participated in several earlier versions of the Gatineau Loppet before the competition settled on its official name. Her first time was in 1981. “I was pregnant with my first child. I was very competitive!” She placed in the top three.

“It was a 55K race designed to prepare skiers  for the Canadian Ski Marathon. It was for real ski fanatics,” Louise recalls.

Today, the Gatineau Loppet is part of an international network of 20 major cross-country ski events. It’s also the most accessible to the general public (there’s even a 2K event for very young skiers).

HOW TO PREPARE

First, choose your style: the Loppet includes both classic and free (skate) technique. And start with a reasonable race. “Choose a course that presents a challenge, but a challenge that’s appropriate for you,” advises Louise. You don’t need to complete the entire distance of your chosen event. “If you can do 5K, you can do 10. Keep your expectations flexible, and don’t rush!” she recommends.

“You can find suggested training programs on the Gatineau Loppet website. But overall, I’d say that the better prepared you are and the more skiing you’ve done, the more fun you’ll have.”

Another tip: Plan to arrive early to get the most out of the event. Soak up the ambiance, find your way around, and after the competition, enjoy the meal served to the skiers. “It’s a time to share with others. You’re proud of yourself, you make friends, you meet people from Japan, Germany, Norway … it’s fascinating! The Gatineau Loppet attracts skiers from 25 countries. It’s the only race in Canada with an international component.”

HER FONDEST MEMORY

Four years ago, the Loppet introduced a 52K course: instead of a loop, the skiers follow a linear trail from Wakefield to Gatineau. “We’d been working on that trail for 10 years. Finally being able to do it, to ski beside lakes and over hills along this magnificent trail, is a very fond memory.”

GOOD TO KNOW

At the starting point, you can remove your extra layers of clothing and place them in bags provided for the purpose. Volunteers will pick them up and store them until you return. It’s a practical service on super cold days!

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Write to us in the comments section: which event between the Canadian Ski Marathon and the Gatineau Loppet would you choose?

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