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2008 CSM Stories: This is Canadian Ski Marathon 2008
By:  Nic Bendeli   (2008/03/12)


It was in 1996. I was in Ottawa, staying with a host family and preparing for the Keskinada. They mentionned about this crazy race where people skied a long distance and camped out overnight. It sounded like great fun and just my sort of thing to do. The difficulty was that I lived in Australia and seldom had the opportunity to ski in Ontario.

Time passed. The nordic skiing phase stopped and I returned to backcountry skiing, mountaineering and general outdoors. More time passed and this time the pendulum returned to nordic skiing and more Worldloppet races. Now was the time to participate in the Canadian Ski Marathon. The problem was that the rules were strict and only previous silver competitors could participate at the gold level. The reasons to the rule were appreciated, however maybe the committee could make an exception given my background? I wrote several emails and eventually permission was granted.

The qiet and focused attitude in the dortoir

Friday evening and I am in the "Dortoir Oir" in Buckingham. A mixture of enthusiastic trepidation was welling within. The enthusiasm of participating with the trepidation of potential issues/ problems. Issues such as not living up to expectations and thus jeopardising the committee's decision as well as future possibilities for overseas competitors. Events turned out differently. The expected noises, merrymaking, enthusiasm, unspent energy, general noise and carouseness did not occur. The group behaved differently to other groups that I had mixed with. They were seasoned and knew was to expect and do. They went to bed and tried to get some rest. The general discipline and friendly behaviour was welcome, appreciated and augured well for the morrow.

Pre start organisation
Pre race nervous tension queue at the toilet

The lights switched on in the wee hours. It was time to get up and get ready. There was a great breakfast prepared however the queue was long and I forewent the meal. I ate a couple of sandwiches and walked to the start. The tempature was mild and the wind almost non existent. A great way to start the event. Competitors milled around and placed themselves in the starting area. I went to the back to allow faster/ keener competitors to race ahead whilst I paced myself. The start was orderly and soon a long caterpillar of headlamps lit the trail for kms. The general enthusiasm was high and competitors were caught in the momentum of the marathon. Gradually daylight grew and the scenery passed by. Low level cloud was obscuring the view and helped to concentrate on the gradual rhythm of stride, slide, stride'n'slide.

60s before the start

The feeding stations were considerably further apart than the traditional Worldloppet distances. They required greater management in order to ensure that energy and hydration were maintained. Each station proved to be a chaos of skiers resting, relaxing, eating, drinking, chatting or waxing. Inexplicably the majority of skiers removed their skis and walked around. This was incomprehensible to me coming from a loppet background where time in the feedstation was non-progress time. I skied in, grabbed a couple of drinks, food and out within a minute or two. The "inbetween" stations were really great and one particular station offered coffee. Yeeeees. Some cafeine to maintain energy levels in the afternoon.

Feeding frenzy at the feed stations

At mid afternoon I arrived at the campsite and looked for Parham and Trevor. We had met in the dortoir, they were very friendly and invited this "Aussie" to share their campfire. Unfortunately by the time I arrived there were many people already around their campfire and I had to look for another one. People were friendly and welcomed me to theirs. At this time I bumped into Jamey who introduced me to his family. I contacted Jamey whilst in Canmore in order to get some ideas from his previoius Gold experiences. Jamey was a wealth of information and interestingly his family was extremely involved in the event. It was an honour to meet his parents who had completed so many gold events. I understood that altogether the family had circa 80 Gold amongst themselves and contemplating setting a record of 100 Gold. How inspirational.

Nic at the campfire

Dinner passed by. The night continued. People gradually dropped off into their sleeping bags and tried to sleep. The occasional wind gusts and falling snow made sleeping a little bit uncomfortable. I found it interesting that most people slept without a shelter and took their chances. There were a few tarpaulins and solo bivouac bags. I preferred a tarp and erected one for comfort during the night. My Exped 7 air mattress was inaugurated and compared to the Thermarests I used in the past. The verdict? Very comfortable. Given my level of comfort, the starting pack weight was only 8kg.

Cosy campfires
Typical bivouac arrangement
Nic's bivouac and group campfire
Nic's bivouac upon reveille

Sunday was a harder repeat of Saturday. More hills and more descents. My base training in Canmore (Alberta) for December and January served me well. I was not sore and able to proceed at the same level if not harder. Gradually the terrain continued and continued and continued. I was getting bored with this never ending trail and the ensuing mind games to keep focused. With about 30kms to finish I suddenly became aware of the need to get through the checkpoint by 15:15hrs. I had forgotten about it and was leisurely skiing along. Now it was becoming a race and I had to move into higher gear. I accelerated and focused intently to arrive at the checkpoint within the alloted time. The accelerated pace was maintained and I checked in at 15:00hr. Jubilation and elation. I had made it. Now it was just a case of finishing and I felt strong enough to do so. The last section was memorable. The snow drizzle that pervaded the weekend was gone and the sun started to shine. The weather became glorious and it became a pleasure to ski and enjoy the landscape. Eventually all good things come to a close and I finished at 17:00hrs.

A great marathon with friendly people and impeccable logistics combined to make it a very memorable event.

The long and winding road of the tour


Added notes:

The issue of participating without having done previous events was a great hurdle. There were a few emails exchanged. Here are some of the details that I listed in order to help the committe make a decision that would be safe, minimise issues, respect the integrity of the standards and allow a distant foreigner to be able to participate given the lack of opportunity to build the relationship. I indicated a wide range of abilities in the outdoors rather than a specific set such as "Olympic medallist" (just joking !). This I felt was more important as it demonstrated that I had done similar journeys and more importantly had the experience to look after myself.


  1. I have been backcountry skiing (overnight, expeditions) as well as nordic racing since 1972. Have ski traversed NZ Alps on randonnee gear (180km), ski traverse French Alps on 3pins, ski traverse Austrian Alps on 3pin skis.

  2. Nordic ski instructor 1984 to 1998 as well as backcountry guiding in Australia.

  3. Longest day trip in Australia (unsupported and carrying all equipment for emergency) 100km.

  4. Have done over 50 Worldloppets including Keskinada and American Birkebeiner twice.

  5. Three times gold medallist in Worldloppet competition.

  6. Many long distance triathlons including Foster Ironman (in Australia).

  7. Mountaineering background includes ascents in Europe, NZ, Alaska (Denali). Recent (unsuccesful) attempts include Mt Logan (2003) and Mt St Elias (2002), Cho Oyu (2004).

  8. Planning to spend a couple of months in Canmore Xmas 2007 to train and ski to rebuild ski fitness as well as pariticipate in MCS, Keskinada and American Birkebeiner.

  9. The majority of my skiing in Australia involves carrying a pack.
  10. I have carried packs in the past in races such as the Norwegian Birkebeiner.

  11. Recently (2005, 2006) completed the Blue Mountain Ultramarathon "Six Foot Track race" near Sydney. A distance of 46kms, 1800m of ascent and 1800m descent as well as heat. Again managing the race and finishing under cut off time rather than racing and mismanaging my fitness.

  12. Frequently complete 60~70 kms jog/walk in the local hills as part of maintaining fitness.

The final outcome was that I was allowed to participate but not allowed to be recorded as a "gold competitor". I was happy with that wise decision. It demonstrated human justice and flexibility for people to participate in the experience whilst still maintaining the quality of what it means to be a "gold" awardee. Gold awardee implies a long term commitment to the event, gradually building up the skills and most importantly learning to deal with varying situations and weather extremes. This experience is justifiably recognised by not diluting the standards.

Gold awardees: I salute your efforts, commitment and determination.

Interesting Reading. . .
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