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2008 CSM Stories: The guys wearing the gold bibs are my heroes.
By:  Chris Macknie   (2008/02/12)


"The guys wearing the gold bibs are my heroes."

I spent the weekend doing the Canadian Ski Marathon. It's a two-day, 160 km classic ski tour between Buckingham and Lachute. It's a tour, not a race, so there's no timing chips, no results, no winner. There's five sections of skiing per day, each section being 15-20 km long. There are several different levels of participation in the CSM. "Tourers" can ski any number of sections each day. Bronze Coureur des Bois (CdB) skiers "merely" have to ski all 160 km over the two days. Silver Coureur des Bois guys have to complete all 160 km of skiing while carrying a 5 kg pack. The supremely studly Gold Coureur des Bois skiers have to ski the entire distance while carrying a pack containing food, sleeping bag, shelter and whatever else they need to camp outside on Saturday night. You have to complete the Bronze level before you can do the Silver level, and complete the Silver level before you can do Gold. If you're insane enough to complete the Gold level five times, (which takes at le! ast 7 years) you get a permanent bib number, coloured in gold to proclaim your studliness to the world. The guys wearing the gold bibs are my heroes; they've put years of training and dedication into getting their permanent bibs, and for the most part look totally relaxed and graceful while cruising on the toughest trails of the marathon. I'm overusing the word, but no studlier athletes exist in the world of sport than gold-bibbed Coureur des Bois skiers.

The Canadian Ski Marathon route is definitely not parkway skiing in Gatineau Park - it's much more hilly, twisty and technical than anything in the Gats. During one section on Sunday we had a 250m high climb, followed by an incredible descent with a half-dozen hairpin turns. On a different section on Sunday, seeing the long line of Gold CdB's with their packs snaking up a long climb reminded me of photographs of prospectors climbing up Chilkoot Pass in the 1890s.

Last year I did the Bronze CdB, but it was a truncated event due to lack of snow. We only skied 140 km on relatively flat trails near Montebello. It did count as a compete event though, so this year I was able to attempt the Silver CdB. The CSM alternates in direction from year to year. This year we were to ski 78 km from Buckingham to Montebello on Saturday and 82 km of hillier, harder terrain from Montebello to Lachute on Sunday. Gold CdB skiers cut off early on Saturday's fifth section to spend the night at Gold Camp, several kilometres north of Montebello. Though there's no timing during the event, skiers need to complete the fourth section of each day (60-65 km of skiing) by 3:15 p.m. This is for safety, so everyone can be finished skiing the last section before dark. You can ski 145 km from early Saturday morning to the fourth checkpoint on Sunday afternoon, but if you don't make it there by 3:15 you're out of luck, and aren't allowed to ski the final section.

I don't really have a lot to say about the tour itself; I just put my head down and skied. Not including checkpoint stops, I skied for around eight hours on Saturday, and 10 hours on Sunday. I stopped for five to 15 minutes at each checkpoint, where volunteers served hot gatorade, honey water, soup, cookies, granola bars, peanuts and chocolate-covered nuts. I only needed to re-wax once per day, as I'd put on a couple of layers each previous night. I started near the front of the Silver CdBs both days, and didn't have any trouble making the cutoffs, reaching the fourth checkpoint at 12:35 on Saturday and 2:45 on Sunday. I did try to enjoy the scenery as much as I could, which was incredibly beautiful, especially with the newly-fallen snow. We skied though pine forests and across windswept farmers' fields and many frozen lakes. One of the most striking scenes was glancing backwards 20 minutes into the first stage each day and seeing a long line of skiers' headlamps snaking alo! ng the trails in the pre-dawn darkness. Skiing with a 5kg pack didn't seem to be a big deal, as I'd practiced quite a bit with it on in the weeks leading up to the CSM.

Despite near-perfect conditions for cold-weather wimps like myself (warm temperatures, lots of snow to cover icy descents and a tailwind all day on Sunday) this was a really tough event, and I felt totally beaten up at the end of each day, as well as on Monday morning. I have certainly felt better after doing an Ironman than after the CSM, but I'm thinking that recovery from the CSM should be faster, as there wasn't as much pounding on the legs. I shudder to think how difficult the CSM could be when conditions are colder, windier and icier. As it is, it's almost like doing an Ironman-length day on Saturday, (and sleeping outside in sub-zero temperatures for the Gold CdBs!) then getting up and doing it all over again on Sunday.

Finally, I have to say a huge thank you to the organizers and volunteers of the CSM. It is a massive undertaking to prepare 160 km of ski trails to be used once per year, to arrange buses to take skiers from race headquarters to checkpoints, to have volunteers out at all the road crossings keeping us safe, to staff the CSM table in Montebello at 4 a.m., and to organize a banquet at the end of the tour on Sunday night. Much of the behind the scenes work takes place overnight, and in frigid winter temperatures. The volunteers and organizers are the real heroes of this event. To all of them, Merci Beaucoup! A la prochaine!

Full event details at http://www.csm-mcs.com/

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