A 71K first-timer’s experience

by Bob Truman on January 21, 2013

in Guest post, Ski Race

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(My friend Chip tackled the 71K yesterday as a solo skier. When my team finished the race, we “raced” back to find Chip at the end of Leg 4. Some of the photos here were taken on race day, and a few in the backswamp were from our scouting trip on Saturday. Congratulations, Chip, on this amazing accomplishment!)

Report on the Lake Louise-Banff Loppet (The Day After)

Scouting out the backswamp on the day before

Scouting out the backswamp on the day before

For years I toyed with the idea of doing the 71-km Lake Louise to Banff Loppet as a solo skier. Some years I wasn’t in shape and some years I was out of the country but in December, while skiing with my friend Ivo, I was cajoled into the attempt. The LLB ran last Sunday and am I happy that I was involved. It was certainly one of the most enjoyable experiences in recent memory and will end up on my list of highlights for 2013.

Chip contemplates whether he really wants to ski onto the Bow River

Chip contemplates whether he really wants to ski onto the Bow River

Skier Bob was good enough (or sadistic enough!) to get me signed up within the first several minutes after registration began. As the  registration closed within the first hour or so, this was a real help to me. Of course, other crazies can ski the course that day and I could have opted for this approach, but being committed on paper made me more determined to train harder, though the training didn’t include the omission of desserts.

On Saturday, Bob and I scouted out a few sections of the course. We skied about 2 km east of the Healy Creek parking lot, where Bob noted that despite some pine needles in the track, it was in good condition. We then drove over to the Backswamp area, where we skied along the river, poles breaking through to slush with alarming regularity. It was here that the scout skiing ended because one of my pole baskets came off in the crust! After driving along the 1A to look at a few other challenges, we stopped in at Wilson Mountain Sports in Lake Louise to get new, larger baskets, which turned out to be a big advantage for the softer sections of track. Dropping off Bob at the Deer Lodge, I returned to Banff for a restless night that ended far too soon

Skiing on the Bow river, minus one pole basket

Skiing on the Bow river, minus one pole basket

The bus left Banff for Lake Louise at 0600 on Sunday, the stars shining brightly in clear skies that allowed the temperature to drop overnight to a chilly -16 C. Although the dozen or so riders were bleary of eye, they were in good spirits as we made our way to the Chateau Lake Louise. The ride also gave me the chance to chat with several of the other 50+ males in the race. It was the only time I saw them , as they were well ahead of me all day long.

Skiing along the Bow Valley Parkway

Skiing along the Bow Valley Parkway

Arriving at the Chateau Lake Louise at 0700, I picked up my bib and met Cheryl and Bob, my support team for the event. I was really impressed with the organization of the race, as well as the wonderful attitude of everyone participating. I particularly liked the outfits sported by some of the racers; sparkling fiber-optic tiaras, fishnet stockings and wigs of every color in the rainbow. The laughter they provoked was a great way to let everyone know that the LLB, more than anything, is supposed to be great fun!

Just before sunrise, all the racers, friends and volunteers head to the Lake and the bell rang at 0800, with just enough light to make out the track. I stayed at the back, as Bob had advised avoiding the tangle of real racers. As the song goes, I’m built for comfort, not for speed, so there was no point in fighting the congestion at the front of the pack. So…in a parade line I skied down Tramline, cold wind in my face and a few strides (at least 100,000 by my quick calculation) to the finish.

One last hill to climb on leg 5

One last hill to climb on leg 5

The first leg runs 21.3 km between Lake Louise and Baker Creek Chalets. It’s a great start because there’s a fair amount of elevation loss. My fastest speed for the leg was about 17 km/hour and it seemed that it ended pretty quickly. I managed it in about 1:45 (I think), taking only one spill because I was distracted by a spandex-clad racer who left me in her snow dust.

Leg 2 is short at 9.7 km and runs between some very pretty country to Castle Lookout. We had a glorious sunrise, hardly any wind and a wonderful track so double-poling helped me regain some ground that I regularly lost to the more fit skiers when we had to diagonal stride to make the slight inclines or work against slower snow.

It's the end of leg 5 as Chip emerges from the backswamp

It’s the end of leg 5 as Chip emerges from the backswamp

The third leg was real turning point for me. I was feeling pretty good, but it seemed to be taking a long time and, because I thought it ended at 36 km, I wondered if I had the steam to double that distance. When arrived and stopped for 15 minutes to fuel up and get some Ibuprofen, I was told that I had skied 43+ km already, a “gain” of 7 km and just the news I needed to “fill my sails”.

Leg 4, running 6.6 km from Johnston’s Canyon to Sawback a bit of a challenge. There is about 100 m of steep uphill at the start, followed by a narrow, downhill stretch that ends very abruptly. This is where Cheryl injured her knee last year and I was counseled to walk, rather than take a chance. This was sage advice, as several faster skiers had already dumped. I jogged down on the road rather than take a chance, even spotting some cat tracks along the way (convincing me to keep going so that I didn’t end my XC career as a cougar’s dinner!)

Switching over to skate skis at Healy creek, ready for the final 10.8K

Switching over to skate skis at Healy creek, ready for the final 10.8K

Bob and Cheryl were shadowing me here, though I didn’t know it at the time. When I reached the end of the leg, they surprised me by taking my pack and offering a few kind words. They then shadowed me for much of Leg 5, taking a few photos along the way and warning me before a particularly icy dip where a few people had ended up on their bums. Boy! I was sure glad that I had bigger baskets for this leg, as the snow was quite soft in many spots and I would have been frustrated punching through with every other pole plant.

Only a few metres to the finish line

Only a few metres to the finish line

As I climbed out of the Backswamp, Bob and Cheryl were there again! I ran across the overpass, changed to skate skis in their warm car and carried on for the last leg, spending a few minutes skiing with Marg Gmoser, one of the grand dames of  Canadian skiing and an inspiration to everyone.

My race ended about 7.5 hours after it began, with a respectable moving average of about 9.7 km/hour.  I was tired but feeling good. Even though the brownies and other assorted sweets along the way sustained me during the race, I was ravenous at the end and so we quickly made our way to the Banff Centre where, while others were showering off their stink, I “chowed down” on the goodies there.

The congratulatory hug at the finish

The congratulatory hug at the finish

It was a fantastic day! Weather, conditions and the racers made it a real treat and I’d recommend it for serious competitors, families and folks just out for fun. It’s a rare treat to ski this course (Parks Canada doesn’t trackset the route except for the Loppet) and it provides a chance to get a different view of the mountains that make southwestern Alberta such a wonderful place to call home.

Above all, I want to send out a big “tip of the hat” to Bob and Cheryl. They helped in so many ways from getting me registered, to scouting, to taking my gear and playing “paparaz-ski” along the way. Of course, the data were really helpful but more than anything, knowing that I’d see them at the end of a leg kept my spirits buoyed during those times when I was doubtful. Thanks, friends. I owe ya big time!

Chip

Update: Loppet results have been posted Full results

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mary Scialfa January 22, 2013 at 5:41 pm

I gotta hand it to ya, Chip. You sure know how to make the most of your environment. I can’t say I’m jealous though. Me and thee do not agree on dealing with the snow and cold. Mary

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2 Henry January 22, 2013 at 10:22 am

Chip, I’ll just add that you also seem to be well aware that nothing compares to having good friends during such an adventure !

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3 Henry January 22, 2013 at 10:17 am

Congratulations Chip !
I want to thank you for giving the rest of us such a good personal insight into you amazing feat.

It is also incredible how some thing ring true over time and space.
I have been emailing to my old buddy Bob in Calgary, about the time that he, Duane, Brian, the ladies, and I had skied the LL loppet.
It was a first race for some of us, and I was dragging by the end, the only thing keeping me going was a piece of tight bright blue spandex skiing in front of me !

Again. Well done!

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