Lake Louise to Banff Loppet 2011

A real basket case

A "Dancing Queen" arrives at Sawback in the Lake Louise to Banff Loppet. Jan 23, 2011

Another thrilling and eventful Loppet was held yesterday. 45 hopeful individuals and 28 teams facing 71K of ever-changing conditions started in the pre-dawn, taking pleasure in the non-wintry temperature of -5.

An ominous start

With the lake being too slushy, we were relegated to a gong show start from the Chateau upper parking lot. It didn’t take long for the fun to start. Parks Canada ploughed and demolished the nice wide trail which had been prepared, and we were funneled through a hastily-contrived narrow snow crossing. I negotiated it without serious incident, but heard later that the loppet got off to a crashing start behind me, with a large pile-up at the bottleneck. The skiers in the below photo were slowing down to avoid the melee in front of them:

The start of the Lake Louise to Banff loppet. Jan 23, 2011

With most of the pack  sorting themselves out behind me,  I counted 12 fast-moving apparitions in the semi-darkness ahead of me as we rounded the corner and headed down Tramline. 

This year, you could actually pass someone going down Tramline, as there was only a dusting of new snow in the tracks. My weight works in my favour going downhill, but as soon as we have to actually start skiing, I always get passed by a few more-athletic-looking people as we ski along the Bow River and through the Campground.

Mayhem at the LL village road crossing, approx 15 minutes into the race. Jan 23, 2011

9.8K along, a few skiers managed to beat the train at the first level crossing, but when I arrived at the tracks, 8 skiers were gathered, waiting for the extremely long freight train to pass. By the time it finished, a crowd of at least fifteen skiers had collected. (Adjustments are made at the end of the race to account for time lost due to trains)

As we veer off the campground loop, that’s the end of designated trail. For the next K, it’s a maze of old roads and little-used trails as we make our way under the Trans Canada Hwy, up the Corral creek road, and finally a steep climb up to the Bow Valley Parkway at Morant’s Curve.

After the massing of skiers at the RR tracks, it’s surprising how quickly the field once again sorts itself out with everyone in their rightful place. I settled in behind solo skier Carl Pryce at the 11K point, and for the next 10k to Baker Creek, followed but couldn’t catch him.  This is where I realized we needed bigger baskets on our poles. The snow was too soft to get a firm plant, and a lot of energy was wasted and time lost as the poles broke through the snow.

At about 20K I could detect the welcome smell of smoke from the Baker Creek Chalets. In a few minutes the cabins were visible through the trees and I gave it all I had for the final 500M.

After 21K of skiing, I was 8 min and 30 sec back of the leading team(Wheels Off).  With 5 team skiers and  11 solo skiers ahead of me, I was the 17th skier to show up at Baker. I had managed to open up a gap of 43 seconds ahead of the18th skier who was from Team Shufflers.

Arriving at Baker Creek, I handed off to Cheryl as she started out for Castle Lookout. Anyone who does leg 2 is a lucky skier. Scenic, good snow conditions, and only 10K.

Cheryl from Team TNT arrives at Castle Lookout as Peter prepares to ski leg 3 to Johnston Canyon. Jan 23, 2011

Most skiers reported the snow on Leg 2 was unexpectedly slow. Lucky for them, this is a picturesque stretch of trail, so they had more time to enjoy the magnificent views. Overall, times were slower than last year. Blaine Penny, winner last year and co-winner this year, took 14% longer than in 2010. Our team was 10% longer. Perrenial female winner Marg Fedyna was 7% longer. The fastest team this year was 40 minutes off last year’s pace.

The one skier who defied the trend was Dennis Kolba who went from a time of 6:48 last year to a stellar 6:21 this year. Dennis attributed a good portion of that improvement to less talking and more skiing!

Leg 2 has remarkable scenery.

On leg 3, Peter found good snow and tracks(still soft, however) except for a 400M stretch where skiers had to remove their skis and run through a logging operation.

Surprisingly, you can have have too much snow

Leg 4 presented the greatest challenge as there was actually too much snow to set a track. The snowmobiles kept getting stuck and finally gave up. Some skiers walked, and some skied on a thin, narrow strip of snow beside the berm(at great cost to their skis). Cheryl skied the entire leg and her skis are showing the wear and tear. 

Skier on Leg 5. Jan 23, 2011

Leg 5 probably had the best snow conditions I’ve ever seen. You could see the snow was extremely deep by how far the snowmobile sunk in while setting track. In a few spots, the track was so deep and narrow that I had trouble finding room for my poles. I was now using poles with bigger baskets and what a difference. It felt good to get a good push once again.

The Backswamp(file photo)

Where I really appreciated the bigger baskets was on the river and through the Backswamp. This section is never groomed or trackset, so the snow is ultra-soft.

The day warmed up to +1 as we approached Banff, so I think this is the first time I appreciated the cool breeze as I stumbled my way through the Backswamp. On a nice day like this, it’s possible to thoroughly enjoy a pleasant ski through the ‘swamp, although it’s the first time I ever saw an ice flow on the trail. Glancing back, I saw another skier about 30 seconds behind me, so I didn’t spend a lot of extra time enjoying the surroundings.

Emerging from the Backswamp. The last few steps onto the Sunshine overpass. Those are Peter's ski poles waiting for my tag. Jan 23, 2011

One final hurdle to conquer on leg 5 is the climb out of the backswamp onto the Sunshine overpass. The snow is waist deep and you have to navigate carefully in the footsteps of previous victims if you are not going to disappear until spring.

The bigger baskets helped a lot. Remember the first leg, where I was 17th fastest? Only nine skiers were faster than me on Leg 5. I’ll admit, some of the solo skiers would be getting rather tired by now.

Team TNT. Bob, Cheryl and Peter at the finish line. Jan 23, 2011

Anchorman Peter skated a quick final leg to give us an overall time of 5:41:03, good enough for 2nd place in the Mixed 40+ category, and 6th of 28 teams. The fastest team, Obsidian, was a Family category with a time of 5:08:02. Seven solo skiers were also ahead of us.

One of the features I like best about this loppet is the relaxed atmosphere and true spirit of sportsmanship displayed by the competitors(except at the start line!).

For example, with only one track most of the way, skiers quickly move out of the way if you catch up and wish to overtake them. I talked with a team skier (Team M I think) at the end of leg one. He started late, behind everyone, but was lightning-fast and must have passed at least 60 skiers. He had no complaints about being held up by anybody. He caught up to me in the campground where there is only one lane, so I moved over and watched him disappear in seconds. I hope I have the correct team there. Barely had time to read his bib!

Overall winners Blaine Penny and Kirk Howell crossed the finish line in a dead heat. Jan 23, 2011

Individual skiers Blaine Penny  and Kirk Howell were the fastest skiers on the day with a time of 4:44:18. Yvon Sevigny finished a mere 29 seconds behind. Yvon, you may have to spend a little more time glide-waxing your skis.

Was this your first?

I was pleased to see a lot of first-timers in the loppet this year. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts. Did the event fit with your pre-race expectations? Any surprises? I hope everyone had fun.

Congratulations to all the individual skiers: 45 started and 45 finished. A considerable and momentous accomplishment. Talking with Yvon at the post-race banquet, we decided that 71K on these conditions was equivalent to 120K on good tracks such as you’d find at the Canmore Nordic Centre.

The results have been posted

Click to see my Photo album

More photos The slide show from Tom Towne shows the leaders at various points along the way(Bib #’s 37 Blaine Penny, #55 Yvon Sevigny, and #57 Kirk Howell). There’s a couple good shots of them skiing on the road on Leg 4.

Tom has also posted some terrific videos. Watch the three leaders skiing through the meadow to get an idea of how fast these guys were moving. Videos

Newspaper story  Good snow blesses loppet event


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  1. An excellent post on the loppet, Bob, and I was pleased to briefly meet you there when you asked a couple of us about soft snow conditions before changing your baskets. I should have thanked you in person for the excellent service you’re providing here on the blog.

    Our team was made up of one skier who skied the loppet in the ’90s and two newbies. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and thought that the organization and the volunteers did a fantastic job, and that the community spirit was really evident in the support everyone provided. Memorable phrases – “I just wish everyone would stop double-poling!”, “My bases just got a facial.”, and “The more organized we get, the slower we get.” – will be feedstock for bar conversations in the future along with vivid images of great scenery, a festive atmosphere, and incredible camaraderie.

    Now we just have to figure out how to ski the 71km in one go before next year’s event!

  2. Thanks for the summary! I did a few loppets last year, but it was the first race for the rest of my team. We had a great time – this event was well-organized, relaxed and fun to be a part of. A very friendly atmosphere!

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