When choosing a speedy ski costume, a mermaid look usually isn’t front of mind.
However, fins and sequins didn’t slow down Canmore’s Karen Messenger as she won the 53-kilometre Lake Louise to Banff solo race in a time 3:37:28 on Sunday (Jan. 22), dressed as a mythical sea creature.
Skiing on a shortened course through brush and ice flows, Messenger powered passed Alexis Guigue in the final kilometre to take the win. Well known throughout Europe on the world loppet circuit for her Wonder Woman ski outfit, Messenger was in great shape leading into the race, and credited her years of bush skiing for preparing her for the win.
“It was a total adventure. There were lots of twigs, ice flows, and super fast downhills. I saw a few crashes and managed to avoid all of them,” she said. “All my years growing up skiing in the bush and on ungroomed trails paid off.”
Blue skies and nice ski temperatures hovering about -8 C made for ideal conditions on the shortened course, which was modified to accommodate Altalink work along the Parkway.
Messenger is no slouch when it comes to loppets. A former ski racer and biathlete with Rocky Mountain Racers, Messenger has spent the past three winters racing loppets around Europe on her self-propelled ‘Tour de Fun.’
As for the costume, Messenger said it took a little help from creative friends to pull it together.
“I thought ‘what cooler thing to see on skis than a mermaid?’ I had help from my friends and it all came together late (Saturday) night. I didn’t get a chance to ski in it beforehand, which isn’t ideal, but it worked,” Messenger said.
Messenger used rock skis on the day, and double poled a great deal of the course, but said she was happy to have kick wax on the hills. She skied with a few teams, and battled Guigue on the final stretch.
Guigue, of France, finished nine seconds behind Messenger, and first in the men’s category. Norbert Meier finished third overall with a time of 3:36:25. That time was strong enough to win the men’s 65-plus category.
Ivana Novosel was the second fastest woman on the day (3:38:59), followed by Liza Pye (3:40:17).
Laurie Harvey was the top skier in women’s 50-plus, while Silvia Stettler was the top 65-plus skier.
The team Haggis and Herring, consisting of Kathy Davies, Mary Young, Maria Hawkins, won the overall race in a blistering time of 3:19:03. All three have raced the loppet many times, and were invincible on race day.
“It took fast skis, determination and true grit through the bushes and ice flows,” said Davies. “Going in, you expect backcountry loppet skiing. The organizers did an amazing job working with what they’ve got.”
Hawkins, a member of Canada’s 1992 Olympics cycling team, had to hold onto the team’s lead while ParaNordic superstar Mark Arendz charged hard to catch her. Hawkins managed to hold onto the lead by picking her spots through the woods.
“I knew some parts would be good and some bad. I tried to go hard on the clear tracks and ease up through the bushes. Those bushes are painful,” Hawkins said.
Full results are available online at www.loppet.ca.