Cross Country Skiing 45km in North America’s oldest Nordic ski tour!
One of my favourite winter outdoor activities is cross country skiing! I’ve been skiing my whole life and it’s something that my family and I have always enjoyed doing.
During the past few years I hadn’t had the chance to get out skiing as much as I would have liked, due to work schedules, weather, and other various reasons. But this winter, having a bit more free time and excellent skiing conditions, I’ve been getting out quite often!
My mom and I in particular have been cross country skiing together a lot this winter. We’ve been heading out to our local Ontario Park, Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park, and either making our own trails through the park or skiing along the new groomed winter multi-use trail that is currently a pilot project within the park. We’ve been skiing at least once or twice a week, and it’s been just so nice to get back out on our skis so often again during winter!
Earlier this year, I saw a post on Facebook that someone had written in the Facebook group for the Wasi Cross Country Ski Club. The person, Kelly Wallace, a cross country skier from the North Bay area, was telling people about an event that people could register for called the virtual Canadian Ski Marathon (vCSM).
I had never heard of the vCSM before, but interesting enough just the week before I had watched an old National Film Board of Canada documentary that told the story of Jack Rabbit. Herman “Jack Rabbit” Smith Johannsen was a Norwegian skier, who is credited for introducing cross country skiing to Canada and North America. He participated in the Canadian Ski Marathon (CSM) well into his 100’s, and this was featured in the documentary.
I decided to contact Kelly for more information about the marathon and learned that the vCSM was in fact the same event as the CSM, except this year because of the COVID-19 Pandemic, they were holding the event virtually. Kelly, who has participated in the CSM 21 times so far herself, told me all about it. Thanks again for all of the information Kelly!
The CSM, held in Montebello, Quebec each year, is North America’s longest and oldest Nordic ski tour. 2021 actually marks the 55th edition of the event. Unlike most ski events, there are no winners or losers in the Canadian Ski Marathon: it is not a race. Skiers of all ages and abilities are welcome to participate. In this two day event, each skier can select their own level of challenge and try to achieve it. One can ski as little as 12 km or up to the maximum of 160 km over the weekend.
For the 2021 virtual Canadian Ski Marathon, there was a few adjustments to the rules and distances. Skiers could register for the category that they wished to participate in, and then complete the marathon somewhere in their own local area. Instead of having to do the event within a two day period, participants had between February 6th and March 7th 2021 to pick the days that would work best for them. Some of the marathon distances were also shortened to make it easier for people to complete the challenge in their own region. After participants had completed their marathon they could then send in some photos of themselves to the organizers and recordings of their distance skied.
Everyone who registered to participate would receive a CSM toque, a 2021 CSM badge, an official numbered CSM bib that they could print and wear, and if they completed their marathon distance, they would also receive a CSM medal for the category that they participated in.
It all sounded really interesting and fun! My mom and I had never participated in any type of cross country skiing event before, so since this year’s event was virtual and you could do it at home, it gave people like us the opportunity and ability to try it!
We decided that we would do it and then had to pick which category we would participate in. The longest length categories, called the Coureur des Bois, involved two days in a row of skiing 50kms each day. There was the Bronze which was just two 50km days, the Silver which was two 50km days wearing a backpack of a certain weight, and the Gold which was two days of 50km, a heavier backpack, and you had to camp out over night between the two days. Given our lack of skiing over the past few years we decided not to attempt the Coureur des Bois categories. Another option was the 45km Half Marathon, to be completed in a one day outing this challenge was great for those who are not quite ready for the Coureur des Bois but want to try a longer distance. The last option was the Tourer category, you could complete as many 15km sections of skiing that you wanted, from one up to ten sections, and the sections could be completed on separate days. Many people participate in the Tourer category each year, and after several years they can earn a special award and permanent bib after completing a total of 50, 15km sections.
At first we thought that we would register for the Tourer category. This would be the easiest, we could complete as many sections as we wanted, and we had been skiing over 10km some days already, so it wouldn’t be too much different. But then of course, as it usually happens when my mom and I start coming up with ideas about outdoor activities to do, we started to think that maybe the Tourer category would be too easy, not enough of a challenge for us. We started to think more about the 45km Half Marathon.
The half marathon would in fact be a challenge for us. We had never skied that far in one day before, and had probably never even skied half that distance in one day. We also did not have a lot of training under our belts, but with some planning and determination, we thought that we should be able to accomplish it. So we registered for the 45km half marathon!
The next thing we had to do was figure out all of the details. Where were we going to do it, when, how, what would we need to wear and bring. We were expecting to be outside for the full day for probably at least eight or more hours.
We decided to complete the marathon in Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park. It was the closest option and we were the most familiar with it. There were a couple cross country ski clubs in our region, but they were located at least an hour drive away and we had only been to the one a couple times before.
There are not a lot of options for long trails to ski at Samuel de Champlain, only just over 6km of groomed trails, making your own trails along the snow covered roads, or skiing along the park road. We decided to ski in along the road, pick up on the groomed trail, and then complete the majority of our marathon kilometers by skiing around a small loop, less than 1km in length, that offered some nice smooth sections and the least amount of hills.
There is nothing open in the park during winter, no warmup buildings, nowhere to fill up water, so everything we needed we would have to bring with us and be prepared for being out the entire day. We would pack our backpacks with lunch and snacks, water and drinks, extra clothing, and emergency supplies, and attach our numbered CSM bibs on the back.
We would have to bring a good amount of water and other drinks, such as Gatorade, with us for the day, which would be quite heavy in our packs. Wanting to avoid having to lug around such a weight all day we tried to come up with some ideas of what to do about it. We couldn’t just leave a bag or water bottles sitting somewhere, someone could pass by thinking that someone forgot them or maybe think that someone left their garbage behind, and then take them. The water could also freeze if left out in the cold.
About a week before we completed the marathon, I was watching a video on YouTube, which gave me a great idea about what to do with our water. Martin Pine, who has a YouTube channel called PineMartyn, was showing people how to build an igloo and winter camp. During the video he explained that to help prevent water from freezing while winter camping you can leave your water bottles in the snow upside down. The snow helps to insulate the water bottles, which slows down the freezing process, and as water freezes from the top down, the water in the bottom of the upside down bottle will start freezing first and you’ll still be able to open the lid. This would be perfect for us to do during the marathon! We would carry our water and drinks in with us to our loop, bury our extra water bottles in the snow somewhere, and then stop to refill our bottles from our packs when we needed to.
If you would like to watch Martin explain his tips about leaving water bottles in the snow, you can check out his video by clicking on the video link below! The section of the video where Martin talks about the water is around the 9:15 mark.
We kept an eye on the weather forecast in February and waited until after a cold spell passed through our area. Thursday February 18th was looking like it would be a great day for the marathon! Sun with some clouds, temperatures up to -7 degrees Celsius, and no snow. We marked that day down on the calendar and got ready to go!
February 18th came, we packed up our backpacks, grabbed our skis, and headed to the park for a 10:07 a.m. start. We had ordinally planned to arrive before 9:00 a.m., but with some colder temperatures earlier in the morning, we had delayed our start for a while. We arrived at the park, took a few photos with our vCSM bibs and the park sign, and then headed out!
Away we went, and it was not a great start! We started off skiing along the main road. We have skied along there many times before, but today it was slippery and icy. It took a lot of extra effort to keep our skis straight, they kept sliding off to the sides and all over the place. After a few kilometers we finally got off the road and started heading towards the groomed trail. We had a short 1km section first along an unplowed road, making our own trail, before we arrived at the groomed trail.
Well, it was supposed to be a groomed trail. We started to get a bit concerned. We had not been in this part of the park for about a week. This section of the groomed trail did not look like it had been groomed in almost a week, with a few inches of snow on top of it. We skied along through the snow covered trail. It was not a big deal, we actually enjoy skiing through fresh fluffy snow normally, but in this situation, attempting to ski 45km in one day, we were really hoping for some faster conditions.
As we approached the loop that we would be completing most of the marathon on, what we had been most concerned about became a reality. The loop was not groomed either. The last time we had skied on this loop was a week before, and at that time it had not been groomed for at least three days. This meant that on this section there was now about a week and a half’s worth of snow, over six inches. Now being that this trail was just a pilot project for this winter season, it was normal to find the trail not groomed everyday, but we had really expected that it would have been groomed at least a few times in the time period since we were last there. I’m not sure what happened, but we were here now and we just had to keep going.
We started skiing around the loop. It was very slow going at first through the snow. It was loose and fluffy, but the conditions were slow. Along the section of the loop that followed right along Moore Lake there were some deep snow drifts with more dense snow to ski through.
After several loops around the trail we finally started to get it packed down quite well and we were making better speed, and starting to enjoy the day more too! Things were looking up!
It was just after noon and the sun had come out nice and bright as well. We stopped during one loop down at a picnic table by the lake to have a quick lunch. The picnic table was covered in a couple feet of snow, we’ve got a lot of snow here this winter, but we still used it to prop up our packs. Cold pizza slices and mini Mars bars for me. It was nice and quiet by the lake, with very little wind, just about perfect weather for skiing!
After lunch we continued around and around the loop. This is what we would do for the next five hours. It was interesting though, going around and around this loop. We never got bored, had some good conversation along the way, and got to enjoy some scenic views, the river and the frozen lake, squirrels and a few birds. We were really having a good time during this section of the marathon!
Although, as we continued on, skiing past the furthest distance that we had ever skied before, I was starting to feel the lack of training setting in, growing soreness in muscles, arms, and legs.
Towards the mid afternoon our ‘support person’, my dad, hiked in to bring us a couple extra drinks and some hot tea. We stopped for a little break. It was warm out and we were quite hot from all the skiing, but the hot tea was still quite nice to drink. We didn’t stop for too long though and continued along our way.
My dad was actually the only other person that we saw the entire day while out skiing in the park. It can be quite quiet in the park during weekdays in the winter, which is one of the reasons why we choose to complete our marathon on a weekday, to avoid the possibility of a lot of people walking or skiing around the loop on a busy weekend.
During the afternoon we had stopped a few times at our water bottle cache that we had set up near the start of the loop. The plan had worked quite well! When we pulled the water bottles out of the snow, the water was actually warmer than the water in the bottles in our packs. Thanks again for the great tip Martin!
One thing that had been really nice, that we commented about towards the end of the day, was that it had been really nice to have spent the entire day outdoors! We had not done that in quite a while, probably since last fall during one of our last long bike rides of the year.
A sunset started to peak out from behind the clouds in the sky as we passed by the lake view along the loop. It was starting to get dark. Due to the late start and slow first few hours earlier in the day, we were not going to be able to complete the last kilometers on the loop and would have to start heading out to the road. We had completed the loop at least 32 times through the afternoon and things had been going quite well. We hated to leave it.
We lost the last of our light by time we reached the road but were able to grab some headlamps from our vehicle. We also dumped off our backpacks. We weren’t exactly looking forward to skiing back and fourth along the slippery road again to gain our last kilometers.
We started off down the road. It was slippery and we had some difficultly until we were able to find a section along the side that was level and snow covered, which made it a lot easier. For some reason, these last few kilometers seemed to feel the longest. I was getting quite sore by this point, it was dark, it had been a long day. The temperature had dipped down to -17 but we actually didn’t feel it at all because we were so warm from skiing. The temperature did show though from the icy frost on my hair from my breath. I got a bit weak at one point and had to stop for a snack. I had made the mistake of leaving too long of a gap between the last time I had ate something and I felt it.
Then finally just after 9:00 p.m. we did it. We reached 45km! My mom and I had completed the 45km vCSM Half Marathon! We had skied 45.16km in a moving time of 8:07 hours, total time 10:59 hours, and had gained 431 meters of elevation according to my Strava fitness app.
What a feeling. We had never skied, or travelled on two feet for that matter, that far in one day before. It was quite an accomplishment for us considering our lack of training and skiing over the past few years, and the skiing conditions. It had not been easy though, but I was glad that we had decided to take on the 45km challenge over the 15 km Tourer sections. I have to say though, this 45km cross country skiing marathon was probably one of the most physically challenging things that I have ever done so far. But I loved it!
If you’d like to see our marathon on Strava, you can click on the link below to check it out!
One of the more comical events of the day actually happened just after we had completed the marathon. We were getting ready to go home, taking our ski boots off of our skis, when my boot would not come off. We tried pushing on the binding and it would not budge, snow from the warm afternoon had obviously melted in the binding and then froze back up in the now colder temperatures. Having just a short ride home, I had decided not to bring a pair of extra boots to change into. So I had to take the ski boot off, still attached to the ski to bring home to thaw out, and went home wearing one boot and one sock!
Two days after completing the marathon we went back to the park for a short hike around the multi-use trail, and were surprised to find that the trail had been groomed the day after we did our marathon. Oh well! Most of the ski tracks from the marathon were gone. It’s interesting how things can disappear like they never even happened, but we’ll always have the memories. I don’t think we’ll ever quite look at that loop of campground roads the same way again after that!
If asked though if I would ever do something like this again, I would say yes. As much as it was difficult I would do it all again! Except next time I think I would rather a bit more training before hand.
One of the things that I also enjoyed about the vCSM, during the entire month long event, was the stories and photos that everyone has been sharing about participating in the marathon. At the real event, people would talk to each other at the stations or at the end of the day, so this year the organizers created a special Facebook group just for the vCSM participants so that they could share their stories and still connect. It was really nice, especially for people like my mom and I who had never been to the real CSM before, because we got to see a little bit about what the real CSM is all about. A group of people who enjoy cross country skiing, challenging themselves, supporting one another, and sharing their experiences and stories with each other! I’ve never really took part in an event quite like that before, and it was a really great experience!
I’m not sure if my mom or I will ever have the chance to participate in the real Canadian Ski Marathon in Quebec or not, but I think it would be fun to try someday!
If you’d like to learn more about the Canadian Ski Marathon, or maybe you’d like to register and try it before it’s over on March 7th 2021, you can visit their website at the link below!