Travel Day- January 21, 2020

We are finally on our way to one of our favourite countries- Italy!  We boarded our plane to Montreal and for some reason we were flying very low and very slowly. It was taking us a long time to get to Montreal. Once we were about to land the pilot announced to us that there was a problem with the landing gear and that it wouldn’t retract so we had been flying with it down the whole way. The landing was terrifying! As it turned out we also had no steering. We did land safely but we were on a landing strip far from the terminal. The next step was to be towed by a tractor to the terminal. We were worried about our luggage making our next flight.  We were upgraded to premium economy for our flight to Munich which was a nice treat after our scariest flight ever.

Upon arriving in Munich we had to wait for our ski bag for over an hour and for our rental car for an hour and half. At the same time we found out that the Konig Ludwig Lauf had been cancelled. We were both so disappointed and immediately thought that we should see what other race we could do. Once we were on the road we headed to Carano, Italy which is very close to Cavalese. The last 40 km of the drive was on the beautiful, narrow, twisty roads of the Dolomites, over the Lavaze pass.  

Going to feel so great to be back in the Dolomites!
Sunset from the top of the Passo Lavaze, 1808m.

We found arrived at our cozy apartment that we are sharing with Robert Palliser from Belleville, Ontario and Grant MCleod from Medicine Hat, Alberta. We met them at the Engadine Loppet in St. Moritz, Switzerland last year. Robert Palliser has 22 gold masters and Grant has 12 gold masters and 2 silver masters.  They are both in their 70’s and such an inspiration to us! Their expertise and advice is so appreciated and they are teaching us the ropes to become Worldloppet Gold Masters.

A New Year, A New Tour!

The winter of 2020 has finally arrived and we are so excited to continue on our quest to become World Loppet Gold masters! Our trip begins on Monday January 20 and we will travel to Italy for the Marcialonga Loppet, Germany for the Konig Ludwig Lauf Loppet and the Czech Republic for the Cez Jiserska Loppet! Seven loppets in 17 days. Can’t wait to ski our hearts out!

The Lavazeloppet 22 km classic race and the Marcialonga 70km classic races

König Ludwig Lauf Short, 21 km skate race and the Long Ludwig Lauf long, 5o km classic races

Volkswagon Bedrichovska 30 km skate race, Hervis Jizerska 25 classic race and the Cez Jiserska 50 km classic races

Let the journey begin!

Race Day! The Norwegian Birkiebeiner-“The Birken”

The History of the Norweiagan Birkiebeinerrennet

The legenday Birkiebeiner (Birkiebeinerrennet) is Norway’s most traditional cross country ski race over two mountains (54 km). Therace starts at Rena and finishes at the Birkebeiner Ski Stadium in the Olympic town of Lillehammer. It’s been held annually since 1932. The 54 km, classic technic, race crosses two mountains, and the track takes you through breathtaking sceneries. About two thirds of the race is over barren mountains and in regards to total climbs Birkiebeinerennet is the most demanding of the Worldloppet races. All participants must carry a backpack weighing at least 3.5 kg throughout the race with ( windbreaker, pants, spare gloves, hat, food, drink and wax etc.) With its track, wild snow, profile, demanding mountains and the Norweigans relationship to winter the race has become very popular. This year there will be about 12,000 participants.

The Birkebeiner races are based on the historic event of the rescue of Haakon Haakonsson. There was a civil war in Norway. After the birkebeiner chieftain Haakon died on New Years Day in 1204, the baglers saw a dangerous rival pretender in his son Haakon Haakonsson , who was born in 1204, a few weeks after his fathers death. His life was at stake, and the birkebeiners wanted to bring him to safety in Trondheim.

The party came to a small farm at Lillehammer, where they stayed in hiding over Christmas. They found it too risky to follow the route up the Gudbrandsdal valley, so they cut across the mountains to the neighbour valley in east, Østerdalen. The 3,5 kilo pack carried by the present day birkebeiners symbolizes the prince, who later became King Haakon. He made an end to the civil war, and under him Norway had a heyday in the Middle Ages. The birkebeiner expedition made history.

The course profile.We started west of Lillehammer in a town called Rena. As you can see it’s fairly hilly!

The Day Before The Race!

Everyone woke up very excited but also quite anxious. It was decision time- which skis, which wax, what to wear, what to pack in our bags and of course this all depended upon the weather forecast. Eyes were being kept on the Swix wax recommendations for the race. All of us made a trip to Sports 1 to purchase a few last minute things then the waxing began!! We even had to buy a new iron as the other one blew up in St. Moritz. Paul and John also prepared our pre-race pasta dinner which turned out to be delicious.

In the end John and Dave went with skin skis and Ross, Paul and I went with wax.

Race Day!!

We woke up bright and early, 4:30 am to a cloudy day but they predicted the sun was coming out. The temperature was about -5 degrees and their was a light breeze. Everyone was a little nervous and anxious but very excited! We were lucky that we could just ski out the door 2.5 km with our headlamps to the bus pick up. We boarded the nice coach bus to Rena at 5:35am and the trip was about 2 and half hours.

Breakfast on the bus!

The start area is a busy place- about 12,000 skiers!
Sitting on reindeer hides by the fire!
Feeling no pressure:)!
Ross walking over to the wax testing/warm-up area as the temperature is rising.
We had to adjust our wax to get better grip! It was so great that there was a wax testing area/warm up area.
It was a very well. organized start and the waves left exactly 10 minutes apart. Ross was in the wave in front of me. Paul, Dave and John started further back.
Ross is right at the front of the wave at the start! He’s wearing a red hat and light green and white shirt.
The start!
I’m ready to go! Start is in 5 minutes!

On course!

The start area was very large with skiers everywhere you looked, white tents, warming fires with fur covered hay bails and lots of flags. The start was very organized and you were able to put your skis on 15 minutes before the start, which was really nice. The gun went off for each wave and within a few hundred metres we started up what would be about a 20 km steady climb. I didn’t have the best grip which made it very tiring and I knew that I was definitely not skiing on fresh legs after doing the last 4 Loppets. Luckily at about 6 km there were bright red Swix flags waving in the breeze so I pulled up to them and they took off my skis and hot waxed them with some more V45 grip wax. The guy was so nice! He even cleaned under my boots, did up my bindings and wished me a good trip. It really helped and I was so relieved because I was really doubting if I’d make it. Oh thank goodness! The partly cloudy skies had given way to a clear bluebird day! It was a perfect day for a beautiful ski in Norway! I was sweating so had to undo my shirts as low as I could under my bib but I was very happy!

Groups like this and families were gathered around fires, sitting on reindeer hides, cheering and celebrating the Birkie! This group offered me some rum!

The views were spectacular! We were above the tree line, north of 61 degrees latitude which is further north than Whitehorse! Every food station was well stocked with lots to drink but not much food except some funny looking little butter or cheese sandwiches (I was afraid to try them :)) They had big inflated domes at the entrances and lots of flags. Finally I made it to the 20 km and was so happy to now know that I would be able to make it to the finish. My back was acting up so I decided that I should stop and take some pictures along the way, hence, the pictures of the course. The further along I got more and more people were out cheering and partying! There were large groups and families sitting around dug out fires, with Norweigan flags set up and having barbecues! They were mostly wearing Norweigan sweaters and hats. So much spirit!

I decided I’d enjoy the journey, take pictures and not race as I was just too tired!

At 41 km I arrived at Sjusjoen and there were huge crowds lining the course for about a kilometre! Many were playing loud music and dancing and cheering! It was so motivating and fun to be a skier in this amazing event! Now it was mostly downhill!! The tracks were still in very good shape at this point that I was able to tuck in the tracks for a long way. At the narrow windy downhill area I really took my time- actually even stopped for a second at the top since my legs were shaking from tucking for so long!

The feed stations had lots of different drinks, even warm cola. I stuck to my granola bars, dried mango, and 2 gels.

I hadn’t seen anyone I knew until very close to the end when I saw John Burke next to me wearing his Canada hat.

At this point I could almost here the announcer at the finish! I double poled as hard as I could on the flats and all of a sudden I saw the stadium!!!!! I was just ecstatic!! It was such an amazing feeling! It had taken me just short of 6 hours but due to my not recovered body, wax issue, sore back and the fact that I stopped at every checkpoint and took pictures along the way I was happy! Ross skied it in 4 hours and 40 minutes!

So So happy!
Oh what a feeling!

Ross was at the finish with a big smile!! We had achieved our goal of skiing The Gatineau Loppet (Ross did the 50km classic and skate and I did the 50 km skate) The Vassaloppet, The Night Engadine, The Engadine and the Birkiebeiner in one season! Our Worldloppet passports are filling up and we had a fabulous adventure!

All the boys really enjoyed the World loppet experience and we were all pretty tired that night! The boys were off to do some back-country hut to hut skiing in northern Norway and Ross and I were headed home after an amazing trip! Time to start cycling now!

We are already planning next ski season: the Marcia Longo in Italy, the Konig Lauf in Germany, the Jizerska Padesatka in the Czech Republic and the Fossavatnsgangan in Iceland. That’ll make us Worldloppet Gold Masters (finishing 10 main Worldloppet racers in 10 different countries).

I hope you enjoyed my blog and that it will inspire you to participate in a World loppet somewhere in the world!

They are truly fantastic events to be a part of! Some photos from the professionals will be posted soon.

A Visit to the Maihaugen

The Maihaugen in Lillehammer is one of Europe’s largest and oldest open air museums. It showcases early life in Norway with 200 buildings on site, dating back to the 12thcentury.

Here are a few pictures from our visit.

We also went to to the Olympic Museum. It was very interesting and here are a few quotes from the walls that I liked.

A Ski Day in Lillehammer!

We went into the village to get a new iron, some wax and also found some amazing studded running shoes called Ice Bugs that are made in Sweden. We ended up wearing them home. It’s so icy when walking here as they don’t use salt or gravel for environmental reasons. The boys went into town to the local grocery store to shop up for our dinner party.

John and Paul started cooking early so that we were prepared for our dinner guests. Neil Bell, Sherri Audet and Peter Ostrom were coming over.

Tacos and sweet potato fries are on the menu.
A house in town painted what seems to be one of the most popular house colours along with black.
No soccer for a while except for at the heated outdoor soccer fields which are a beautiful green contrast right now.

Next on the agenda a ski, of course!

We discovered that we could take the bus to Sjusjoen right at the bottom of our street so we went up there again. This time the bus was filled with skiers and students.

Waiting for the bus!
What a beautiful day!
Forgot this one- the white building, second floor on the left is or apartment! It’s working our perfectly.
The top of the big downhill!

At. the end of our ski we skied right over to Hakons Hall to pick up our race kits and then skied right back to our door. It’s just so neat! The ski trails right around us are groomed for walker/ runners/bikers, skate skiing and classic skiing. See the picture below.

And they’re lit at night!

Peter, Neil and Sherri came over around 7 pm and we had a wonderful time. I was finally able to give them their neck warmers that I had made. John and Paul really cooked up a great meal and Sherri made a delicious apple crisp. It was a great evening with lots of laughs. Not too much nervousness about the race/event yet.

We are all really excited about the Birkie! So far weather looks great-might just be a little warm towards the finish. Ross and I are going with wax skis. Not so sure about the others yet. They are still deciding.

In Lillehammer, Norway now!

We drove to Zurich, flew to Oslo, took the train north to Lillehammer and a taxi to our apartment. We were very surprised with our apartment as it’s much bigger than we expected and has a great view of the Lillehammer valley.

We walked down early morning to the bus station to meet Ray and Heather at bus 262. We rode up to Sjusjoen Skisenter which is at the top of the last hill of the Birkiebeiner. It’s basically 15 kms down with one steep long part that if it’s fast the pros hit 70km. The ski network is huge (2000 km around Lillehammer alone)) and there’s a very cool app. called that shows real time grooming, web cams, wax selection, weather conditions etc.. for all of Norway. Around Oslo there are 2600 km of groomed trails. Skiing is a way of life here!

Up on the plateau!

The Boys Arrive!

Paul Bush, Dave Sherrard and John Burke arrived on Tuesday evening. I finally was able to present them with their team Canada accessories that I’ve been carrying with me since we left Ottawa.

They are quite the characters!

Wednesday morning we woke up to about 25 cm of new snow with snow expected to fall all day! The boys went up to Sjusjoen today so that they could ski the last 15 km of the Birkiebeiner trail. Ross even found the way to ski right back to our apartment! So cool!

John, Paul and Ross. So much fresh snow!
Many of the 2000 kms of trails are even lit!
Look out for Paul!
John in action!
Downhill Dave!!
This is where we all hope to make it to in good time on Saturday! The finish of the Norwegian Birkie!

I decided that I needed a recovery/rest day so I walked down to the beautiful main street of Lillehammer and explored the shops. It’s called Storgata and is lined with beautiful low wooden buildings. It’s pedestrians only and quite spectacular, even in winter. I also picked up groceries for dinner at the KIWI grocery store and wine at the “Vinmonopolet” which is the alcohol retail monopoly.

So many people ride these sleighs!
The traditional Norwegian dress.
Have to have the shoes too. p.s. I didn’t buy them.

Heather and Ray came over for dinner and we all had a great time!

Today, we’ll go for a ski and actually ski into town to pick up our race kits!! Waxing is also on the agenda. It looks like the weather will be perfect for wax skis, not skins which makes me very happy. It may even be a sunny day!

Race Day!- The Engadine!

It was a perfect race day! The weather was beautiful- a mix of sun and cloud and temperatures about -2 at the start warming up to about plus 3 or 4 degrees! The scenery was spectacular and the vibe everywhere was electric! The elevation of the start was 1800m and the finish was at 1600m so a net downhill. We dressed with only 2 thin layers and ended up wearing a thin hat(Ross) and a headband(me). This was a big change for us since it’s been such a cold winter at home and we’ve been use to wearing so many layers, neck warmers and even boot covers.

Our hotel was serving breakfast at 6:15 which worked well for us to catch the 6:45 bus to the start in Maloja. Fortunately, the bus stopped right outside our hotel and man was it ever filled with skiers, standing room only. The start was so well organized; they even had the army and their trucks out to do the baggage transportation. We waited in the warming tent for a while before going to our “starting pens”. They used my first in my age group from the American Birkiebeiner Korteloppet last year to seed me so I was in the Elite C wave. I was nervous about starting up too close to the front so started at the very back of the wave which I won’t do again. It just means there are more people to pass, the next wave fast skiers are passing me which is psychologically tough and the track is more skied in. Ross didn’t ask for seeding and we figure they drew for the next waves so luckily he was only one wave behind me. I knew he’d pass me though- the questions was when!!

The start area wasn’t too large so they put everyone into waiting area pens (holding their skis and poles) and then opened the gate at the appropriate time. I’ve never seen so many people packed in so tight. It was a very relaxed start as once it was time for your wave you ran out to the start, put your skis on and just started once you were ready. There wasn’t the usual craziness at the start (e.g. broken poles and people falling).

The pens with about 14,200 racers were unbelievable!

The sun was shining at the start and the track was very fast! It was busy but not too bad until the hill just outside St. Moritz where I saw a flash of the famous hill of the Vasaloppet. However,there was even a volunteer organizing us into 3 lines across. It moved pretty well and was a short climb. I did have time to eat half a bar waiting in line to go up!The famous downhill slalom course through the trees was much easier in the daylight so it was very fast and I stayed upright! We skied through several towns along the journey where the trail was lined with people cheering, ringing bells and yelling Uppa, Uppa and Heja, Heja! The wind was even at our back! It was just perfect! I felt pretty fast and stopped twice- at Pontresina(20 Km) and Bever (30km) for a bar, mango and water. I starting feeling excited that I’d probably beat my goal of under 3:30. With about 7 kms to go I still hadn’t seen Ross and was getting worried. The snow was very soft as I approached S-Chanf and I could hear the cheering and announcing! I was 500m from the finish and so so happy! What a spectacular finish area. There were so many people cheering, held back by the same fencing as the pens and little Swiss children putting the medals on- so cute! I didn’t see Ross but finally we met up at the finish- both so happy with our results. I had even finished in time to see the winners presentation which doesn’t happen very often. Ross finished in 2:20 and I finished in 2:54!! I was 47th in my age group out of 170 and Ross was 269th out of about 900. We felt great!

The crowds!
The winner received big antlers too!

The course record was broken this year! The winner did it in 1:22! That’s for 42 kms. Incredible!

After we collected our bags we boarded a train with all the other skiers back to St. Moritz and then took the bus to our lovely hotel in Sils Maria with the fabulous spa and delicious 5 course dinners! It was a fabulous day!! (There is a video link below. It brings you to a web page , scroll down to personal video- (hopefully it will work!)