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Lake Louise to Banff Loppet offers virtual challenge for second year

"It doesn't matter what level of cross country skiing you have, I really encourage people to breathe in here what we have in the Bow Valley because we all need it very much – even on the good days."

LAKE LOUISE – The winter adventure race that whisks cross-country skiers through Banff National Park's snowy backcountry returns for another year.

Registration is open for the Lake Louise to Banff Loppet and Relay taking place between Jan. 17-30, which allows skiers to take on the local favourite event in a virtual challenge for a second straight season.

"It doesn't matter what level of cross-country skiing you have, I really encourage people to breathe in here what we have in the Bow Valley because we all need it very much – even on the good days," said event organizer Heidi Widmer with a laugh.

For solo skiers, there are four distances – 9.7 km, 20.3 km, 45 km, and 90 km. For relays, teams of two to six, the 45 km or 90 km courses are available. Courses will be marked by loppet flags.

An informal mass start race is set for Jan. 23 with a 9 a.m. start at Lake Louise.

"The first 30 kms are really fun, double track and really scenic if you get out on a clear view day and the last maybe seven [km] from Castle Junction to Johnston Canyon I call it a little bit more wilderness because it doesn't get groomed very often so you feel like you're in a real adventure race at that point," said Widmer. 

"With cold and the dynamic weather systems that we have in the Bow Valley, that's another benefit to having it open over two weeks, it just adds that much more flexibility as to when the best weather window is to ski."

A popular race for locals, the loppet dates back to 1929 in Banff National Park when it was a 72-km course from Lake Louise to Central Park, near downtown Banff.

Nowadays, the race still starts in Lake Louise, but has had some adjustments over the years on its finish line destination.

Last year, the loppet introduced its first ever virtual challenge to give skiers a two-week window to ski to help with social distancing during COVID-19. In previous years, the one-day mass start loppet only had 200 entries available, but in 2021, 291 skiers signed up and took advantage of the extra time to complete the challenge.

Widmer, a 2014 cross-country Olympian, took over organizing the long-time Banff tradition in late 2019.

"I think, ultimately, the loppet means so much to me because it's a unique course," she said. "Not often can you ski for that long of a distance and really immerse yourself in just going through the process and there are a lot of parallels between skiing the loppet and the pandemic. There's going to be moments of elation where you think you're through it and then crushing realization that we're still in it.

"In a loppet, you know your finish line, but if there are any lessons of perverseness and playfulness and enjoyment that can be drawn from the loppet, I really wish that for anyone who participates."

The loppet team is following AHS guidelines, which currently allows outdoor sporting events. 

For more information, registration, and to view the course map, visit loppet.ca.


Jordan Small

About the Author: Jordan Small

Jordan Small joined the Outlook in 2014 and covers the vast world of sports in the Bow Valley. A Barrie, Ont. native, he also wrote for RMO's Mountain Guide section and the MD of Bighorn beat.
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