These winter races might have originated in Scandinavia, but world-renowned skiers agree: Canada’s loppets create unforgettable experiences. Shake off the winter blues (and your skis) with this twist on cross-country skiing paired with food, drinks, and banquets.
The bonfire crackles as cross-country skiers dart past. Some pause to grab a glass of cider before disappearing into the frosty forests of Gatineau, Quebec. If food, drinks, and competitive sports sound like a midwinter dream, we’ve got a loppet with your name on it.
“The word loppet originates from the Norwegian language to describe a long-distance ski event across varied terrain,” explains Berend Henckel, president of the Strathcona Nordic Ski Club on Vancouver Island, BC. “It’s an opportunity for the Nordic ski community to get together and participate in a festive atmosphere.”
Festive indeed. Refreshment stations along the length of a loppet offer food, drinks, and cheering spectators, and everyone attends a post-race banquet or party.
But don’t let the celebratory atmosphere make you think this isn’t serious business. At a loppet, you’re celebrating your strength, your skills, and your own ability to overcome challenges and achieve your goals. “The focus is to challenge oneself, to ski a longer distance,” says Henckel. “Some athletes compete against the clock, while others focus on completing the journey.”
And what a journey it can be. For skier Petter Soleng-Skinstad, his journey this year at the Gatineau Loppet crisscrossed finish lines and generations.
It all skis in the family
The Worldloppet International Ski Federation only recognizes one loppet per country—what it ranks as the country’s best offering. The Gatineau Loppet is Canada’s representative on the international stage, attracting hundreds of skiers every year.
And it’s here, 5,600 kilometres (3,500 miles) from Norway (the home of some of the world’s first loppets), that Soleng-Skinstad’s journey came full circle.
Soleng-Skinstad’s connection to skiing goes back generations. His father competed in dozens of World Cup races, as well as the Norwegian Nationals. “However, he never got on the podium in the Gatineau Loppet when he was there in the early ’90s,” says Soleng-Skinstad. “I’ve always wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps.”
Or should we say ski tracks?
Not only did Soleng-Skinstad compete in the Gatineau Loppet just like his father did, but this year he won first place. His younger brother made it a truly family affair by earning a spot on the podium in third place.
“Winning both the classic and skate race of the 2018 Gatineau Loppet was a big deal for me, and I felt super happy to achieve a goal I have had for so many years,” says Soleng-Skinstad. “Having my brother with me on the podium made it extra special.”
A Canadian twist
When Soleng-Skinstad says the Gatineau Loppet is one of the best in the world, he’s speaking from experience. He’s skied all around the world, and this winter he’s competing in both China and Russia.
“The Gatineau Loppet is special because of the unique course, amazing nature, and really nice people,” says Soleng-Skinstad. He says no other loppet he’s competed in gives you the variety of trails and the breathtaking scenery that Gatineau offers. “It’s unlike anything we see while skiing in Europe.
“I actually feel the Gatineau Loppet is more true to its heritage than many Scandinavian races. Some races have turned into a business more than the social, fun event it’s supposed to be. The Gatineau Loppet has managed to keep what I can describe as the true identity of cross-country skiing, keeping it down to earth.”
Festivities for all
You don’t have to be a world-renowned skier like Soleng-Skinstad to enjoy a loppet. While Gatineau’s race covers 51 km (32 mi), many loppets across the country create festivities accessible to all ages and skills.
“Our Vancouver Island loppet offers distances of 30 km, 15 km, 5 km, 2 km, and 1 km,” says Henckel. The shortest race is often referred to as the Cookie Loppet. “Typically children ages three to eight ski this distance, sometimes accompanied by a parent or grandparent.”
The Saskaloppet in Saskatchewan also provides a wide range of options. A 5 km (3 mi) loppet starts things off for younger skiers, complete with cheering mascots and a hot dog celebration halfway through. And if you really want to test your endurance, there’s a two-day 84 km (52 mi) loppet.
“Very experienced skiers and those who are new to the sport can participate,” says Dorothy Looyestein, chair of the Saskaloppet. “Some skiers just enjoy being on the trails, taking in the beauty of Lac La Ronge Provincial Park, and being with friends and family. Other skiers participate to test their skills and their skiing times.”
And no matter which event you enroll in, you’ll experience Saskatchewan’s own twist on these Nordic events. “We provide lots of food—sandwiches, hot and cold drinks, fruit, and surprise treats,” says Looyestein. “And at de-registration, skiers and volunteers enjoy a chili and bannock lunch, which is a Saskaloppet tradition!”
In the end, all of this is what makes a loppet so deeply satisfying: it’s a celebration of skills, of endurance, and of human connection.
“It’s not about the race itself, which of course is a big part of it, but the main focus should be enjoying skiing together with friends,” says Soleng-Skinstad.
Each loppet will only have one winner, but everyone can have winning experiences. “For me, everything that happens before, during, and after the event is a crucial part of every race,” says Soleng-Skinstad.
“Catching up with old friends, discussing the snow conditions, talking about what we hope to achieve with the race, meeting up after the race, enjoying some well-deserved food—all of that counts just as much as seeing your name on the results list.”
West to east
Canada offers dozens of loppets, each with unique trails and stunning scenery. The following examples are open to all skiers who satisfy the age or skill requirements specified by the loppet organizer.
|Reino Keski-Salmi Loppet||Salmon Arm, BC|
|Yukon Ski Marathon||Whitehorse, YK|
|Canadian Birkebeiner||Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area, AB|
|Don Allen Saskaloppet||Lac La Ronge, SK|
|Canadian Ski Marathon||Montebello, QC|
|Mont-Sainte-Anne Loppet||Beaupré, QC|
|Gatineau Loppet||Gatineau, QC|
|The Great Labrador Loppet||Labrador City, NL|
Let it snow, let it row, let it snow
Loppets aren’t the only winter sports that will take you off the beaten path (literally). Get curious, creative, and chilly with these unusual ice-related adventures.
Quebec athlete Frédéric Dion snowkited in Antarctica, but you don’t have to go that far to experience it. Right here at home, enthusiasts attach a kite to skis or snowboards and let the wind propel them across fields and slopes.
This Japanese competition fuses capture the flag with snowball fights. In the past few years, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and Jasper, Alberta, have hosted international tournaments.
Boats aren’t just for summers. This year, Quebec hosted its very first Ice Dragon Boat Festival on frigid Lac Beauport. There’s also ice yachting on the Great Lakes, and ice canoeing on the St. Lawrence River, where you navigate between and over floes of ice.
Feel the thrill of mountain biking all year long. Fat bikes have special frames and wheels that allow the bike to ride on ice and powder, and it’s a hit in mountain bike and ski hotspots such as Silver Star Mountain, BC.