One of Canada's winter bucket list races the Gatineau Loppet

Legendary cross-country event returns Feb. 15-17

There are few races in Canada that define winter sports quite like the Gatineau Loppet. It’s long, some might say gruelling. It’s also as competitive as they come and sits at the top of many a winter sports bucket lists. The 41st edition of the Loppet runs Feb. 15-17, and it is shaping up to be an epic year for the thousands in attendance.

“It’s a testing ground for a lot of people,” says David McMahon, of Natural Fitness Labs, who has been involved with the event for decades as a competitor and in other capacities, including training those looking to take part. “There is a certain amount of prestige associated with it, and it’s an objective a lot of people have. There’s also a lot of camaraderie that goes along with it.”

McMahon knows a thing or two about loppets. A former Canadian national team biathlete, he competed in the World Loppet Series and now operates the largest adult cross-country ski and snowshoe program in the country.

He says he’s quite happy with the way the Gatineau Loppet has not only offered eight different course options for cross-country skiers but added additional sports such as fat biking and snowshoeing to make it a true winter multi-sport festival that draws thousands of competitors to beautiful Gatineau Park just 15 minutes from Ottawa.

But, the cross-country ski competition, especially the two 51-km linear courses, is still the main attraction. One, according to McMahon, that rivals and some ways bests the European versions that attract tens of thousands of skiers.

“It’s a much more challenging loppet than a lot of the races in Europe, which are very flat,” he explains. “This one is known for having a bit more elevation, climbing and more technical content, which makes it much more interesting.”

McMahon suggests some training is required to make the most of the Loppet including at distance as well as paying attention to interval training, good technique, the right equipment and tactics so competitors don’t get overwhelmed at the start and enjoy the entire experience.

This year, the indoor portion of the events, including such things as food service, has relocated to Campus Gabrielle-Roy of the Cégep de l’Outaouai, right next door to the original facility, as a result of the recent tornado in the area.

In addition to the races, there is also an indoor cross-country ski show, post-race meals, adult beverages, Swix wax clinics, awards ceremonies and generally a pretty fantastic atmosphere all weekend long.

The best news is, of course, that this time around Mother Nature has provided an abundance of snow.

“Things are shaping up well in terms of snow conditions,” says Jean-François Rochefort, president of the Gatineau Loppet Board of Directors. “We couldn’t ask for better, all our circuits are open ready to be raced and we are confident there will be no snow issues.”

Although he won’t know until the day after the event how successful it was, he already knows his favourite part of the Gatineau Loppet. And that is hanging that medal around each and every participant’s neck after they cross the finish line. They might have had an epic day, or an exhausting one, but that moment is always the sweetest.

“No matter what the weather was, the smile on the face is the same from everyone wherever they come from, whatever the age, if they have frostbite, or a snow beard, they all have that smile of satisfaction,” says Rochefort. “So I really like to be there at the finish line.”
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