Here’s a first-hand account from a loppet first-timer:
“If you only do one big event in your life, do this.”
You asked for comments from first-timers in the Lake Louise to Banff Loppet, so I thought I’d oblige. I first heard about the event on your blog last year (thanks), and decided to give it a try. It was my first distance event since the old Maritime Marathon Ski Tour, eons ago in New Brunswick.
What a day. First of all, the organization of the loppet was amazing, as were the volunteers. There were obviously some surprises (8 lanes into 1 1/2 only 30 seconds after the start was interesting), but nothing that could have been controlled. I was fortunate to get through that spot before anyone crashed, and had a wonderful run down the hill. I managed to dodge one crash coming down the Tramline, raising my head and changing lanes when a lady in front of me yelped and did an amazingly graceful jump over and around a pile of skis, poles, and skier.
I settled down into a comfortable pace (made a real point of working on pacing while training), in a loose pack that seemed to re-form around every check point. The first three legs were just plain fun – fast, great scenery, cheerful people. The short jog through the logging zone on leg 3 actually felt like a nice break.
Then on to leg 4. My poor skis. I don’t know if I have ever concentrated so hard before while skiing, dancing around each rock. The feel of poles pounding asphalt, combined with those lovely little tugs on the skis as yet another souvenir gouge was formed. At least it was short. Leg 5 (other than a few rough or narrow spots where the track setting just didn’t work) was good. The backswamp, subject of some mystique in previous loppet descriptions, was a blast. Fast snow, decent trail, unbelievable views of the valley all around. I hooked up with a team skier (sorry – forget which team) and other than a small meeting with a black spruce on one tight corner we flew through it.
The run over the Sunshine overpass was a real highlight for me. My wife and kids met me at every checkpoint, and at Sunshine my daughter (Karen, 10) said she wanted to go across with me. I said “OK, but I’m running”.
Perhaps I should have said “OK, but I’m only jogging”. Bit humbling (but fun) to be so easily outpaced by my daughter. Leg 6 was pretty icy and the hills felt a lot longer than they really are, but was still fun. I met a couple of ladies who were skiing the other way just before I hit the river – their “only 10 more minutes” was much appreciated. At the finish my kids were skating on the river next to the track; I managed to beat them, thanks to rough ice, and made it to the line with lots of cheering (impressive crowd).
What are my overall thoughts? It was as close to a perfect ski day as you could get. If you only do one big event in your life, do this. Oh, and bring rock (asphalt) skis for leg 4.