Canadian Ski Marathon: I tried a taste!

Published on November 17 2016

Generally, I’m a fit and active person. I pick up most sports fairly easily, and I thrive on achievement, so if someone suggests I’m not up to a challenge, I set my mind to do it and do it well.

That’s exactly what happened last fall, when my colleague Geneviève roped me into the memorable adventure of the Canadian Ski Marathon (CSM). Someone else (hey there, Frédéric Ménard, CSM event director) had dared her to do it, and she shared the dare with me … and I said yes!

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So we each did some training (not enough as we would have liked, but as much as time allowed), and on February 20, 2016, we set out on a unique cross-country ski trail that’s groomed just once a year, especially for North America’s longest and oldest Nordic ski tour. We’d signed up in the CMS-Taster category, and taste we did! Let me tell you about our fabulous experience.

An event that’s open to everyone

True confession: until last January I hadn’t stepped into a pair of cross-country skis for at least four or five years (shoutout to Sport Échange Outaouais for loaning me a pair for the season). Although the full CSM covers a 160‑km distance between Gatineau and Lachute, you don’t have to ski the whole thing; you can ski as many sections as you like, and that’s what Geneviève and I did.

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There are four categories: the CSM-Taster (ski the last section on Saturday or Sunday), the Tourer (flexible self-designed course of 2 to 8 sections over 1 or 2 days), the Half Marathon (3 sections per day for 2 days) and the Coureur des Bois (80 km a day for 2 days). So you can select your own challenge level. And let me tell you, in 2016 I met fellow skiers of all ages, from a little guy of 6 to a few hardy souls who were close to 80!

The unique thing about the CSM is that the trail is linear, and groomed only once per year. The atmosphere is amazing. It’s not a race or a competition: it’s a friendly event where everyone skis at their own pace.

A feeling of pride

We started skiing after lunch on Saturday, and 14.7 km later we were feeling pretty proud of our accomplishment. Skiers in the CSM-Taster category get to cross the finish line both days, and that’s quite a thrill! As we approached the elementary school in Montebello, we could hear the announcer calling out our names. It gave us a real boost after all that time on the trail!

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And were we ever hungry! We tucked into a hearty pasta meal laid on by the CSM for skiers staying at the Papineauville Dorm in Louis-Joseph-Papineau High School. That brought back some fond memories! It had been awhile since we’d eaten in a school cafeteria, let alone surrounded by hundreds of people in damp clothes. Perfect strangers fell into easy conversation, and the atmosphere was warm and convivial—and filled with pride!

As for the dorm, it was quite a sight to see all these people sleeping lined up in rows on the floor of the gym. Here’s a photo that speaks for itself!

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On Sunday morning, everyone hit the trail again to Lachute (we skied the last 17.4 km). My favourite part: skiing down Principale Street!

After we’d crossed the finish line, we had our photo taken with legendary triathlete Pierre Lavoie!

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Take-home from the weekend: Even though the event is called the Canadian Ski Marathon, it’s suitable for all levels of skiers. Once you get there, the atmosphere is super-friendly—it’s like being part of one big family!

Visit to the Gold Camp

As intrepid bloggers, before supper on Saturday we were granted a VIP visit to the CSM’s Gold Camp, reserved for skiers in the Coureur des Bois Gold category. It may be called “gold,” but believe me, this is no luxury accommodation. In fact, I’d describe it as extremely basic! Not only do participants have to ski 80 km each day, they also have to carry a backpack containing all the necessities for an overnight camping adventure, including food, sleeping bag, clothing, etc. These skiers are truly intrepid. Have a look at their setup!

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That night was very humid, and a lot of folks ended up sleeping in damp clothes. Even so, they were all awake by 5:40 a.m., up on their skis and ready and raring to hit the 80‑km stretch to Lachute.

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These skiers are truly inspiring. We met all kinds of people, some of them first-timers but many back for their second, third or even ninth year. Some came with friends, some with a partner and some with their families. One family we met gets together to ski the CSM every year: one daughter lives in Europe and one in western Canada, and the son and the parents live in Quebec. It was great to see everyone stepping up to this wonderful winter adventure!

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Have I inspired you to sign up? Here’s the link for online registraire. Register by November 30 and you’ll save 15%. Go ahead, take the challenge. I’m betting that once you try it, you’ll be hooked—just like me!

Here are the cross-country events for the upcoming winter:

Canadian Ski Marathon: February 10 to 12, 2017

Gatineau Loppet: February 17 to 19, 2017

Jack Rabbit Classic : March 11 2017

For everything ski related in the Outaouais, click here.

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