Smith-Johannsen 33 Km Loppet

Smith-Johannsen 33 Km Loppet

The last race in my Canadian Loppet campaign took place yesterday under blustery skies, temperature -9 at the 0915 Start, 200+ skiers fired up to go. Two days ago, for the first time in weeks, the local temperature had risen to + 4 and copious rain fell on tracks which had been carefully manicured for the big xcty race of the season for the Viking/Morin Heights Ski Clubs in Quebec’s Laurentian “Mountains” – my ski club of yore, attended frequently by my mentor – the Jackrabbit, after whom this event is named. In all, some 700 skiers were racing today, however the 33 Km longest trail attracts the best, keen to test their skill and stamina on the longest and most difficult of the trails which adorn the higgledy piggedly ever-changing landscape of these magnificent surrounds. It’s familiar territory for me. In 1980 I was the Chief Organizer of the first World Masters xcty ski event here which took place just before the Lake Placid Olympics. It drew several World and Olympic Champions to our Club and I remember well Olympic Champion Norwegian Harald Gronningen, in my age group,“levitating” past me on an uphill just before we flew down and around the infamous “Viking Wall”. The 10 Km racing trail on the Viking grounds, with very steep and twisty ups and downs, was prepared for that event and still exists to test the skill and courage of those brave enough to descend full out.

Despite a marvellous attempt by the track setting crew to scour the rapidly freezing rain-sodden tracks hours before the Start, this first 10Km of our Loppet yesterday was even more testing than usual due to a lightning fast track in harsh conditions where crashes were many and uphills required deft herringboning to conquer the slippery, crystallized snow under foot.

Somehow I survived the Racing Trail in approximately 45 minutes but then had to apply additional Blue Extra on top of my blue klister base in order to have a semblance of grip up up up into Crown Lands as we headed into the hinterland. There the track narrows to one, making it difficult to change position on the uphills and nigh on impossible on the twisting , undulating downhill portions where copious trees in this glorious mixed forest present many immovable obstacles, the going at times bordering treacherous!

Twice in the race I applied hard wax to my soft, dry snow skiis however I couldn’t complain about the glide, particularly after arriving at the brief “aerobic corridor” section of the trail – a long, gentle downhill. Aggressive double poling allowed passing literally dozens over the space of some 3 KMs there. Then it was back into the woods onto a vintage Jackrabbit trail almost until the end of the race.
All in all a wonderful experience feeling Jackrabbit’s presence in many places and saved from flame out by the infrequent possibilities for changing position on the trail. Given the constant balancing act this big daddy of good old fashioned Jackrabbit trails required of me yesterday, this was the perfect race in advance of the upcoming Norwegian Birkebeiner, with its scary downhills into Lillehammer’s Olympic Stadium, surrounded by a pack of aggressive young racers who start well after us old farts.

And how did we do? – 6 minutes slower than last year, in 2:58, with two 70+ types 1 -3 minutes ahead of me as opposed to the other way round in 2013. Not to worry – everything was working, ‘twas a great day and they are close to 10 years younger than my 80 years!

Interesting that of the four loppets I raced in Canada this winter, within a fraction, each one averaged marginally over 11 KPH. The “super wic” is definitely slowing down, beginning to enjoy the scenary a bit too much it seems, now relegated to a fast touring pace, hardly racing at that speed. “Smelling the roses” time is fast approaching. Better that than “pushing up daisies”! Not a bad way to leave the racing scene behind methinks.

Thanks for the memories Western and Eastern Canada, particularly the Vikings – I’ll never forget you!!
24 Feb 2014