Canada's biggest and best cross-country ski event returns
Few races in Canada 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 winter sports bucket lists. The 45th edition of the Loppet runs Feb. 17-19, and it is shaping up to be an epic year for the thousands in attendance.
The Gatineau Loppet dates back to 1979 and has grown in popularity as the only Worldloppet event in Canada, often drawing upwards of 2,500 participants. It is the largest historical cross-country ski gathering in Canada and celebrates and welcomes skiers of any level.
The event takes place in the Gatineau Hills, a beautiful and challenging location located north of Ottawa. The courses wind through a mix of rolling terrain, dense forests, and open fields, offering skiers stunning views and a diverse range of terrain. The snow conditions are usually excellent, and the trails are groomed to perfection, making for great skiing.
The Loppet includes several competitions over the weekend with distances ranging from 5 to 50 kilometres in the freestyle or skate and classic. There is also the Ultra Challenge, which, will reward the top three finishers in each of the Men’s and Women’s 50K Freestyle and 50K Classic Technical categories.
In addition, the Friday night relay race is back this year after a successful inaugural event in 2022. Here, teams of three race relay-style on a 1-km loop. It’s the ideal fun way to kick off the weekend for ski clubs, companies, organizations or a group of friends.
The Gatineau Loppet highlight is the challenging 50-km linear distances that have always been the most competitive drawing an international field to Gatineau Park.
“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.”
Stephan Meyer, who sits on the Board of Directors of the Loppet, and is an avid skier, says first-timers to the race should pace themselves.
“For first timers new to the sport, I'd suggest taking it slow. Don't get caught up in a melee at the front of your starting wave,” he says. “Instead, savour the day and enjoy the journey. Better yet, you could even take part in one of the untimed events and get to ski at your own pace.”
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 Gatineau Loppet is one of the few truly International winter events in Canada,” says Meyer. “This gives it a certain ambience that is unique.”
The Gatineau Loppet is a great event for skiers of all levels, whether you're a recreational skier looking for a fun and challenging event, or an elite skier looking to test your skills against some of the best in the country. It's also a great opportunity to experience the beauty of the Gatineau region.