BANFF – A new era is beginning for a longstanding ski tradition in Banff National Park.
The Lake Louise to Banff Loppet & Relay is green lit for Jan. 19, 2020, following the commitment of former cross-country skiing Olympian Heidi Widmer to take over organizing duties of the race that dates back to 1929.
The born and raised Banffite who's stoked on all things grassroots sports, said the loppet is a race for the locals.
“I think there’s a need for local identity, a need for locally run and locally participated sporting events; it’s a staple to have strong community identity,” said Widmer.
Registration for the 50-kilometre loppet opens on Sunday (Dec. 1) at www.zone4.ca. New to the race are updated age categories of U30 and 30-49, plus 50-65 and 65+.
The race, which starts in Lake Louise and goes to the finish line at Sawback picnic area on the Bow Valley Parkway, is limited to 200 participants, who can compete solo, or in teams of up to four.
It had been known that the long tenured volunteers and organizers were at the end of their run and were looking for “new blood” to take on the loppet before next year's event.
The “seeds were planted” for Widmer to take the reins earlier this year during the 2019 post-loppet dinner at her family-owned restaurant Ticino, where she was serving.
“It was celebratory, but a little bit sombre,” Widmer said. “I think I knew if the race were to end it would be difficult to bring it back to life in the park … They didn’t directly ask me [to take over], but I knew it might be the end.”
When the dinner concluded, Widmer was jotting down contacts to connect with and do further research on the project. In the summer, she committed to taking it over.
“The most energizing part of this process is the appreciation and value and feedback I’ve been receiving,” Widmer said.
Jo Lunn, the loppet’s previous organizer, is pleased “young blood” is taking over the race and said most of the volunteers will mentor the new crew during the 2020 loppet.
“It’s a unique local event; we’ve had support from Parks Canada and the Town of Banff and the opportunity to be able to ski in the park has always been at the forefront of why we continued to do this,” Lunn said.
“About 20 years ago before I took over the organization of it, ironically, the last year I skied the loppet was with Heidi’s dad, so it’s sort of come full circle.”
The loppet dates back to 1929 when it was a 72-km course through bush, snow and ice from Lake Louise to Central Park, near downtown Banff. In modern times, it has been shortened to 50-km, but its charm of backcountry escapades and touring along untouched trails with the chance to bump into wildlife still remains.
Widmer hasn't personally competed in the local race, but the former Canadian and Swiss national cross-country ski team athlete has fond memories of racing in loppets overseas.
“Regardless of one's ability, everyone is striving for the same finish line,” Widmer said. “You can say that as a community, we’re moving towards the same goal.”
For those interested in volunteering, email email@example.com.