Today’s post comes from Peter Gallagher, coordinator of the annual Sleeping Giant Loppet.
Looking to ski your winter blues away?
The Loppet is a longstanding winter tradition for many northwestern Ontario families. Mark your calendars: the 44th edition of the event is on Saturday, March 4, 2023!
The history of the Loppet
The Loppet began in 1978 as the Thunder Bay Ski Tour.
The name was changed to the Sibley Ski Tour in 1982 to reflect the then-named Sibley Provincial Park.
The park’s name officially changed to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park in 1988, in recognition of the iconic land form in the park.
In its early years, the event primarily attracted experienced cross-country skiers. At that time, the challenging course usually measured approximately 50 km.
The course varied from year to year, and in some instances even ventured out onto the ice of Lake Superior.
The challenge of maintaining a trail on the windswept lake soon encouraged organizers to find a suitable spot for the course on land.
Welcoming the skiers
Approximately 800 cross-country skiers will participate in this family friendly event that features distances from 8 km to 50 km.
The Loppet usually attracts about 100 skiers from the United States, with hundreds more from towns throughout northwestern Ontario and across Canada.
In addition to the 800 skiers, about 200 volunteers will be needed to conduct the event. They will perform tasks that include staffing checkpoints, parking vehicles, shuttling equipment and timing skiers, just to name a few.
The 20 and 35 km distances
The Loppet offers a variety of trails for a variety of skiers.
In the 20 km race, some skiers race for competitive awards and complete the course in less than an hour. Others enjoy a much more leisurely pace, taking three to four hours and stopping along the way to enjoy the scenery or take advantage of the aid station refreshments.
The course starts at the Marie Louise Lake Campground, and utilizes the summer road around Marie Louise Lake for the first 15 km. It returns to the start via a 5 km trail through the forest on the east side of the lake.
The 35 km race starts at checkpoint #2. This event is a non-competitive distance that allows skiers to enjoy the beauty and challenge of the iconic Pickerel Lake and Burma Trails.
Looking for a challenge? Go all 50 km!
In keeping with the early traditions of the event, the Loppet includes three 50 km distance options.
The 50 km free technique (skate) distance is the marquee competitive event of the Loppet. Elite skiers from across Canada and the northern United States challenge each other to get on the awards podium. Cash and merchandise prizes are up for grabs for the first three finishers for men and women.
For less competitive skiers, the event offers an opportunity to measure personal fitness and complete goals for the ski season.
A renewed interest in classic skiing resulted in the establishment of the 50 km classic technique event with its own separate start wave and awards structure.
And finally, for those skiers unable to decide between skate or classic, the skiathlon event allows skiers to use both techniques for the 50 km trail. This group uses classic technique for the first 22 km, and then switches to their skate equipment.
Make it a family affair at the Mini-Loppet
The biggest change to the Loppet over the years has been adding in opportunities for entire families to enjoy the event.
The 8 km Mini-Loppet is perfect for young skiers just learning the sport, as well as beginners and older adults wishing to gear down from the longer distances.
Many parents and grandparents introduce their children to the Loppet by joining them for the ski. Parents with young children pulled in chariots or sleds are encouraged to join the fun.
The Mini-Loppet includes a halfway point aid station with warm drinks, cookies, and chocolates. All skiers also receive a chocolate medal at the finish line.
The 8 km event also welcomes visually impaired para-skiers.
Families can also participate in the “Four Event Challenge.” This fun team event combines the race time of a skier in each of the four events: 8 km, 20 km, 35 km, and 50 km.
There are four different categories for teams. These include; all female, all male, mixed, and family (must be a relative). Winning teams receive recognition and prizes at the awards ceremony.
Time to Loppet!
Start making your plans now to be at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park on Saturday, March 4, 2023!
If you’re a skier, there’s a distance that’s just right for you. If you’re a family member cheering others on, make sure you find a cowbell and make lots of welcoming noise at the start and finish areas.
Just looking for a chance to enjoy a winter outing? Grab your snowshoes to walk some of the non-skiing trails and marvel at the talent, determination, and camaraderie of Thunder Bay’s cross-country skiing community.
Online registration is open until February 28 at midnight.
In-person registration will be available at the Kamview Nordic Centre on Thursday, March 2 and Friday March 3 until 8 pm.
There is no registration on the day of the Loppet.