.: Ski XCOttawa.ca :: Skiing in Ottawa and Gatineau Park

Long Distance Ottawa
By:  Edward McCarthy   (2008/01/13)

Skiing is a great sport. The ways in which it is wonderful are too numerous to mention, but one of them is variety. If you were, say, a mid-distance track runner, you would spend your life running races of 800m, 1500m, 3000m, and the occasional mile, on identical oval tracks. Oh, some of those tracks might be a different colour, but you wouldn't even get to switch directions. The track runner's mantra: "Run hard; turn left." As a ski racer, though, you get to race on radically different courses (though this is, unfortunately, changing), in distances from 1km sprints to 50km distances, or even longer if you're a sucker for punishment, or a Worldloppet follower.

Those sprints, though; there's the rub. It's no secret that I don't like sprints. I appreciate them; they're fun to watch, and I imagine they're fun to race in, but to be honest I'm just plain terrible at them. It hasn't always been this way: the first year sprints were run at Junior Nationals I finished 11th in my category, but that remains my best ever high-level sprint result. While my opinions on sprints may be in the extreme, I'm not the only member of XC Ottawa who's not a fan. Karl and I had a great easy classic ski in Duntroon on the following day's race course as most of the field was busy trying to go fast on a 1km loop.

Why is this? Partially physiology, I'm sure, though my dad likes to remind me that he used to sprint and avoid distances when running in school. I'm going to ascribe at least some of the blame to learning my skiing Ottawa, though. Not so much because Ottawa is bad for sprinting as because it is great for distance. This is why...

1) The Gatineau Park. The Park is not only a great place to ski, it is a great place to ski far. It's easy to do a short out and back, but the trail network just seems designed to encourage long, scenic loops, with great trail variety, or particularly notable long out and backs. Leaving aside the obvious Parkway loop, there is the Firetower, the route from O'Brien out towards Herridge, any number of loops through the Park's Ridge Road spine, and the farther reaches out by Lac Philippe. With a bit of creativity, you can ski all day and never be in the same place twice. It's a long haul better than having only a local club with a 10km loop.

2) The Canadian Ski Marathon. This was my first introduction to skiing longer distances. When I was seven, my dad took me on one section of about 15km. It was -40 degrees, the section involved an innumberable amount of windswept lakes, I frostbit my cheeks, and I swore I'd be back the next year. This amazing event lets skiers of any skill level challenge themselves in a non-competitive, wonderfully supported manner, on trails they'd never ski otherwise. Who doesn't want an Elvis impersonator to give them cookies and hot soup at a rest station in the middle of nowhere? There may be those who disagree, but I think it's impossible to do the CSM and not come away with thinking that skiing 160km in two days sounds like a great idea.

3) The Gatineau Loppet / Keskinada Loppet / Gatineau 55. Whatever you call it, it's been a part of Ottawa ski culture for a long time. With the Park for a venue it's hard to go wrong, and a range of distances means that young skier can get into this long before they get foolhardy enough to try the 50k. The Loppet's gained an almost mythical status locally, with stories of extreme weather (usually cold, sometimes snowy) and various European competitors challenging the locals.

4) The Nakkertoks and the Nakkerloppet. We talk a lot about the amazing job that's been done with Nakkertok South and the new Nordic Centre, but one of the lasting charms of Nakkertok is that South is only half the deal; a ways up the road is Nakkertok North. A ways up the road, or up the ski trail, a long (25km?), challenging trail. The Nakkerloppet, an annual race from Nakkertok North to Nakkertok South involving shuttle buses, Richard Weber, and a lot of broken equipment, used to be a major Ottawa event. I'm proud to report that XC Ottawa's coach, our very own John Suuronen, is himself a past Nakkerloppet champion. Though it's not as formal is it used to be, the Nakkerloppet's still going on - check it out here!

With all this stuff around, why would anyone want to bother with sprinting?
Interesting Reading. . .
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