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Chlorine Chronicle (Archive)

NMSC Apr/04 Newsletter

Swimming through tracked powder

By John Burrows

I was asked to provide the NMSC newsletter with an article about a unique Canadian outdoor event. For 38 years, the Canadian Ski Marathon (CSM) has attracted cross-country skiers from around the world to "challenge Canada's winter". It is a touring event for skiers of all ages who attempt skiing the distance of their choice, from 12 km to 160 km over a two-day period. One group of skiers, the Gold Courier des Bois is a group of about 120 skiers that seeks to ski the entire distance while carrying provisions to survive Saturday night outdoors.

The CSM is a two-day chess game with wax, injuries, snow conditions, temperature, correct food and liquid intake, fitness, stubbornness and trail hazards the chess pieces. It's addictive. It's a major challenge and an amazing satisfying event to complete. I have entered the CSM for the last 14 years and in those years, I have completed the Gold level ten times and have been awarded a permanent number - 109 - for having completed the Gold at least five times.

Gold camp north of MontebelloStart of one of the ten sections

The CSM is an incredible organization with hundreds of volunteers, scouts, police and reservists providing first aid, safety patrols, short-wave radio, checkpoint refreshments, and road crossing assistance for the 2,000 or so annual participants. The route passes through beautiful forest and farm land between Lachute - Montebello - Buckingham. Some of the sections are very challenging, with steep climbs and hairy descents. Every year the route changes in response to land ownership changes and logging.


Do you carry a tent? Almost no one carries a tent. It is too heavy and doesn't add to comfort. The CSM provides hay, hot water, fire wood and outdoor toilets at the Gold camp. Eight inches of hay and a good sleeping bag are adequate even for -28oC, the coldest night I have encountered (yet).

Equipment? The pack I carry weighs 17 pounds and includes a sleeping bag, a nylon poncho (in case of snow), emergency repair kit, extra clothing and food.

How do you dry out at the camp? Each day involves 8 to 10 hours skiing so skiers arriving at the camp have burned a lot of calories. The last 2 kilometres involves skiing slowly and trying to dry out a little. The next step is getting a good fire burning and then drying all clothing - to stay warm overnight and to save weight for the next day's ski.

What are the worst conditions? Cold temperature reduces the number of finishers because cold snow offers little glide, more energy is needed to stay warm, water bottles freeze, and it is harder to control persperation. Wind further complicates things and makes the snow even slower.

What is the hardest part of the Marathon? Usually the first day is do-able due to energy reserves. The overnight camping does not usually cause problems. Most people find the first four hours of the second day most difficult. It involves getting up at 4:00 am to prepare for the 6:00 am start. It is so difficult getting body temperature regulated after leaving the camp-fire to go to the start. The first hour and a half of each day is skied with a headlamp and it is usually not until 9:00 am or so that the sun creeps above the top of the hills.

Why? For one thing, skiing for 20 hours makes a 200 butterfly seem relatively painless. But seriously, the CSM is a great challenge and a lot of fun - especially once it is safely over. And cross-country skiing is a great pursuit.

See you in Lachute, 5:15 am, Saturday February 5, 2005.

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