Race Reporter Philipp travelling over the great lake
February is a busy month in Northern America when it comes to Worldloppet races. The city of Gatineau and Hayward, a small town in Wisconsin, are welcoming skiers from all over the world. Two hot weekends of long-distance racing are on the menu, first in Canada, then in the US, first the Gatineau Loppet, then the American Birkebeiner. The fortunate dates are inviting for Europeans to do both races within one season and that’s exactly what I did. I was travelling alone in Japan which was a nice and new experience but for the two-week North America trip I brought my girlfriend and two friends from Finland.
The Outaouais region
The Outaouais region promised hundreds of kilometres of cross-country tracks close to big cities like Gatineau and Montreal and good spots to relax after ski. We expected a lot and the region certainly held its promises made in advertisements and on websites. Endless tracks in the Kenauk nature reserve close to Montebello and the Gatineau park were well groomed and ready to be explored. The first night we spent in the world’s largest log castle, one of my personal highlights of the trip. While skiing we saw signs for winter walking trails, fat bike tracks or snow-shoe hiking routes, one could really be outside and find shelter at any time in the various cabins that can be found in Gatineau park. On Wednesday, skiing in the famous park with the local Worldloppet master Alain d’Entremonts, we brought sandwiches from Biscotti and had a break in one of those cabins. A fire in the cabin kept us warm while enjoying lunch and listening to Alain’s tips for the race. The temperatures were quite cold and after three days of skiing we thought we had earned some time to relax and visited the Nordik Nature-Spa right next to the Gatineau park.
Even though it was the largest Spa in Northern America we found it very cosy and nicely arranged. We should have stayed longer to enjoy all the different saunas, pools and treatments. Speaking of treatments, the restaurants offered delicious food and lots of different cold beverages from local breweries to drink. I can recommend the Chelsea pub close to the Nordik Nature-Spa and Le Gainsbourg for dinner. We found a very cosy little appartment house, the Maison Bleue close to the Gatineau park in case you are looking for a stay. Outaouais, Québec certainly is a good place for skiing and relaxing afterwards! The Ottawa river separates Gatineau from Ottawa, and of course also Quebec from Ontario. An afternoon walk across a bridge brought us to the capital city of Canada and the parliament hill. The close distance from the race venue to the city center are certainly a good thing for tourists.
Worldloppet feeling in Canada: The Gatineau Loppet
Unfortunately, we did not only come to kick back and relax, we came for the 41st edition of the Gatineau Loppet. Classic on Saturday, Skating on Sunday both races were point to point races through the Gatineau park.
Various distances were offered on both days to make it a family race or a challenge for yourself. In our hotel, we met racers from other European countries who travelled to the race without a car and relied on public transport or the buses provided by the race organization. It is possible, but I would recommend renting a car. We did not find a waxing room in our hotel but in the finish-area were several waxing benches available. Bib pick up and navigation went smooth, good signage and info on the website. Wifi is in most places for free. A tornado destroyed the original venue, the alternative venue was also very good, and we had no problems overall.
It’s race day! But not only one.
On Saturday morning, all participants of the main race were brought to the start with school buses, the yellow school buses all Europeans know from the American movies. I found it quite cool and couldn’t wait to race. Unlike most of the other big classic races around the world, the fastest guys used kick wax and I decided to go with kick as well. I certainly did not do the best job waxing and got dropped from the first group quite early. I was skiing alone, in bright sunshine at -5 degrees through the park for 25 kilometers. Certainly not the worst day for skiing and I finished with a smile on my face. The course profile was challenging but once you made it to kilometer 37 it was more downhill than uphill, the downhills were not long enough though.
When I planned my trip pre-season, I thought it was a very good idea to do both races. I’m not sure why I decided to start two main races in a row, but I saw myself at the starting line on Sunday again. The race went surprisingly well, and I managed to ski in the first group for 20km. When the fast guys increased the pace before the long uphill I got dropped like a hot potato and found myself again alone in the Canadian woods. But the race reporter only races when its sunny and I enjoyed my second day wearing a bib in the sunshine and after a total of 5:08 hours, 102 kilometers and 2150 meters of climbing I earned my stamp in the Worldloppet passport.
Nex stop, American Birkebeiner in Hayward
Overall, Canada has been amazing! Lots of snow, good tracks, well-organized event, many tourist program options. I have met friendly and happy people and made lots of new friends and certainly want to come back. But for now, it’s time to say goodbye and catch our plane to the US, a week of American Birkie and exploring new tracks is ahead of me. See you in Hayward, until then don’t forget to ski around the world 😉< Back