Loppet collage

Trails set for Sleeping Giant Loppet

Today’s post comes from Peter Gallagher, coordinator of the annual Sleeping Giant Loppet.

Ready, set, ski!

Recent heavy snowfalls and warmer temperatures in the Thunder Bay area have combined to create fantastic conditions for cross-country skiing.

The full 50 km loop at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park is ready and machine-groomed for both classic and skate techniques.

With the 41st annual Sleeping Giant Loppet scheduled for Saturday, March 3, 2018, skiers will be preparing to race in this iconic event.

Time to hit the trails!

Skiers have six weeks to prepare for the event, whether it’s intense training or simply checking out the trail system.

Start line at the loppet
Photo: Anne Bushe

Beginning at the Marie Louise Lake campground allows skiers to complete the 20 km ski route around the lake. You can also start your ski from the small parking area, where the road to the Thunder Bay Lookout starts off of Highway 587. From here, skiers can complete the 30 km upper loop using the challenging and scenic Burma and Pickerel Lake Trails. Another alternative is to just ski as far as you’d like, then turn around and head back to your vehicle.

Remember that a day-use permit is required. They can be purchased at the self-serve fee station at Joe Boy Lake or the Marie Louise Lake campground. Members of Thunder Bay Nordic Trails are not required to purchase permits, but should leave their membership card on the dashboard of their vehicle.

Preparations underway

Preparations for the loppet have been underway since the completion of last year’s event.

Confirmation of sponsors is a huge task. Half-Way Motors Nissan returns as the presenting sponsor, providing the prize money that is awarded to the first three female and male finishers in the marquee 50 km free technique event.

Sleeping Giant in winter


All of the supplies ordering is completed, including loppet merchandise like t-shirts, hats, toques, throat coats, bibs, memento pins, and the famous chocolate medals.

Although now retired, former Thunder Bay Nordic Trails Manager Peter Crooks will be on hand to assist with the trail grooming. Crooks is armed with two PistenBully groomer machines, and an operating crew including Dave Suttie and Kristian Jakobsen.

Skiers can expect the excellent trail conditions that are a highlight of every loppet.

Skiers unite!

Just who is participating in the Sleeping Giant Loppet?

Although the competitive aspect of the event is important to many people, the vast majority of skiers are just out to enjoy a day of skiing with family or friends.

Of the 800 skiers, almost half will choose the 8 km event. It’s a great distance for children, beginners, and anyone wanting to gear down their effort.

O. E. Olynyk ready to ski
O. E. Olynyk

Age is no barrier in the loppet! Many adults use chariots to pull their toddlers while, at 92 years young, O. E. Olynyk leads the super senior category.

Some skiers even dress up in costumes to brighten the wintery setting. Many skiers use the loppet as a season-ending goal to challenge their personal achievements each year.

The 50 km free technique event attracts elite skiers from across North America. Minnesota and Wisconsin are hot beds of skiing, and usually about 100 skiers from the U.S. attend the Loppet.

Thunder Bay itself has four very competitive ski teams. Their athletes vie for championship status. Those clubs include Lappe Nordic, Big Thunder Nordic, Lakehead University, and the National Team Development Centre (NTDC).

Evan Palmer-Charrette of NTDC is the two time defending champion of the loppet, however he will be unable to defend this title due to racing commitments in Europe.

Evan can still claim to be the first skier to complete the 50 km event in under two hours, having raced in a time of 1:59:32 last year. He finished a boot-length ahead of Andy Shields, who clocked in with an identical time.

The 2017 Women’s champion Jenn Jackson is also unable to attend, so the competition for the $1000 prize money is wide open!

Volunteers needed

About 200 volunteers are needed to make the loppet a success. Volunteers are required for registration, race kit distribution, course set up, trail preparation, timing and results, checkpoint supplies, radio communication, and as first responders.

The assistance of the Lakehead Amateur Radio Club and Canadian Ski Patrol Northwest Zone are important for communication, and safety of the loppet participants.

Want to volunteer? Contact info@sleepinggiantloppet.ca or cal 870-629-0649.

Want to ski in the loppet?

Sleeping Giant Loppet

It’s easy to register! Just go online, choose your event, and click on the registration tab.

For the best price, register before midnight on January 31. Online registration continues until February 27with registration available in person on the Thursday and Friday before the loppet. Same-day registration is not permitted.

We’re looking forward to seeing some familiar and new faces at the loppet. See you March 3!