BANFF - A family dynasty of cross-country skiers couldn't be stopped from winning Sunday's (Jan. 19) Lake Louise to Banff Loppet & Relay.
The mother and son duo of Canmore's Milaine Thériault and Xavier McKeever, a three-time Olympian and up-and-coming teenage prodigy, finished first overall in the 50-kilometre loppet through Banff National Park at a time of 3:02:06.
The second place team, Stryder's Gliders, consisting of Karen Messenger and Erik Carleton came in at 3:16:09. In third was Csonkas 01 (Bogi Gyorfi, Soma Csonka) at 3:27:39.
After the race in an emotional tribute, Thériault spread ashes of late friend Katharine Armitage-Amundson near the finish line at the Sawback picnic area on the Bow Valley Parkway.
"One of my best friend's passed away last year from ALS, and she was Xavier’s godmother, so for us, she use to do this [loppet] every year and we did this in her memory," said Thériault. "So Xavier and I took it over and we raced for her."
It was the first time the mother and son teamed up for a ski race, which the former Olympian admits she took some time to enjoy the perfect skiing weather and scenery.
"Now [McKeever] is much faster [than me], I use to be able to keep up," she said.
With the timing of the loppet, McKeever used the race through bush and untamed wilderness as a warm up for the world junior cross-country championship trials in Quebec later this month for a chance to qualify for the international event next month in Oberwiesenthal, Germany.
"It was a lot of fun," the 16-year-old skier said. "I was working with another competitor at the start, changing leads and taking turns setting the pace ... After a while, we hit a road and I was leading and upped the pace a bit."
McKeever is on track to one day qualify for world cup starts and racing side-by-side with the teenager for the first 15-km or so was Ian Murray, a former world cup racer, who finished first overall in the solo category at a time of 3:12:24.
"I told him, 'Xavier, it's really special for me to be doing this with you,' because I'm an older guy, getting older, and he’s a younger guy coming up, so just to race with him is a special thing because who knows, he might go on, he’s raced world juniors and he might go on to race world cups," Murray said.
Aaron Bryant wasn't far off Murray in second, finishing at 3:13:04. In third, Canmore's Alaric Fish crossed the finish line at 3:22:50.
For the solo women, Ivana Novosel finished first at a time of 3:28:52. In second was Catherine Auclair and in third was Mary Young.
The loppet dates back to 1929 and after a callout for new volunteers and organizers to take over, Heidi Widmer grabbed the reins mid last year. She said the latest loppet was a success - and she even tried it out the next day when so many things weren't on her plate.
"I think the most energizing thing is so many participants and volunteers love the loppet so much, and I can't tell you how many people came up to me and were appreciative for keeping this going," Widmer said. "It's a staple, community event to the Bow Valley."
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