Billed as the longest loppet in Canada, the Boreal 100K loppet took place in Forestville Quebec for its third year. With the successes of the first few years, organizers were hoping for bigger and better things. Back in the field was two time champion Steve Cyr, one of the top loppet racers in Canada and three time Olympian.
Forestville is located on the North Shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, approximately 4 hours drive through the picturesque Charlevoix region from Quebec City. Forestville is easily reachable with direct flights from most North American and international destinations to Montreal with a quick connection to Quebec city or Baie Comeau. From either location, the final leg is by rental car. Once athletes get to Forestville, everything happens from the race headquarters, the Econolodge Danube Bleu. The hotel puts on a great buffet, a wax room is set up in the adjacent flower shop (the entire shop packs up for the weekend) and the start/finish line is no more than a 100m walk from any of the hotel rooms!
The traditional 100 km course traverses some of the most picturesque Canadian Shield terrain, meandering through river valleys, sharp hills, between granite peaks, and along hundreds of frozen lakes, surrounded by Boreal forest. The course offers some of the most stunning scenery east of Royal Gorge California. Best of all, held largely at sea level, the 100K offers the challenge of the distance, without the lung busting thin air of other mountain locations.
While races throughout the Eastern sea board were suffering from a distinct lack of snow this year, the opposite occurred in Forestville. The Birkie may have been shortened, the Lake Placid Loppet on thin minimal â€œwashboardâ€ coverage, and the Keski, taken off its traditional course including the famed Penguin Hill, to a 90% parkway course, Forestville, did not just have snow, but it had too much.
Situated up the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, the system that had dumped on communities from Lake Erie to Quebec City, picked up additional moisture as it hit the Gulf, and droped a foot and a half of new snow on the course the night before the race. The snowfall finally ended at 9 am at a rate of over an inch an hour. With the original race start planned for 7 am, the organizers, had already converted the course into a 3×27 km loop, noting that it would be impossible to get the 12 hour grooming job required to set the 100 km course completed.
Then the race start needed to be postponed till 10 am to allow the groomers to complete their work on the revised 27 km loop. However, there was so much snow that the groomers got stuck on the course. When the groomers finally arrived at the â€œfinish lineâ€ they were cheered by racers and organizers alike. With the late start time, the course was now revised to only 54 km. Volunteers, who were out manning aid stations for several hours along with racers, were all glad to just â€œstartâ€.
As the organizers said in French, â€œMaintenant, nous avon un course comme les autres â€. Literally translated as, â€œNow we have a course like any other raceâ€. It was evident that the organizers, wanting to showcase their unique 100 km loop course were even more disappointed than the racers after a year of meticulous planning. Nevertheless, their efforts were heroic. It is a small miracle that the racers even got out on the trails and got to compete. It is a testament to the work of the volunteers and organizers in pulling together in the face of adversity.
So while there would be no 100 km event, and no visit to the most picturesque part of the traditional course, the racers got to race, money was still raised for the local high school teams that benefit from the proceeds of the event and sponsors still got the payback on their generous donations. And for athletes coming from as far west as Soda Springs California in the Sierras, there was still a race and the full experience to the small town French Canadian hospitality that makes this event so special. At Forestville, the entire town effectively shuts down for the event. It is the closest a citizen Nordic skier can get to rock star status in North America.
Oh, yes and there were races that happened. In addition to the 54 km, there was a 27 km, a 14 km and a 7 km event. While the original 100 km was skating only, at the shorter distances, skating and classic would be offered.
In the 100 km, the field has not been large, but has attracted some of the most prominent masters racers in Ontario and Quebec, often drawing many top 25 finishers from the Keskanada World Loppet and a number of Ironman triathletes, who crossover to XC skiing and for whom the 100K presents an equivalent winter challenge. In this year’s field, the top athletes were two time defending Champion Steve Cyr, a three time Olympian in Biathlon winner of numerous loppets in Ontario and Quebec. Challenging him would be Masters notable, Pierre Lavoie. While he excels at XC skiing, many will note that he is also a two time 40-44 World Champion at the Ironman Triathlon in Kona Hawaii. Rounding out the contenders was Erik Grimm and Carl Johnston of Rochester New York. Johnston and Grimm cross over all sports from XC skiing to mountaineering to backcountry skiing, to triathlon, road cycling, mountain biking, kayaking and adventure racing. It’s hard to label them as XC skiers, but certainly both have credentials that cross over to every sport that has an endurance or difficulty component tied to it. Most recently, they skied the Wapta Icefields in the Canadian Rockies and had skied across Greenland and Finland in years past. On the women’s side, Marie Pierre Parent, 2006 Olympian in Biathlon at Torino was there too and as it turned out would give the men a good run for overall placing.
After a long wait the athlete hit the trail. With the amount of snow and the recently completed grooming job, there was little time for the snow to set. The course quickly turned into a quagmire of loose powder, where the person who was lightest on the feet and who could hammer with lots of upper body force was rewarded. Cyr’s engine, technique and years on the world cup circuit showed as he was able to gap Lavoie early in the race. In fact, the final podium was set early in the day, with Lavoie moving ahead of Grimm. From there, it became a personal time trial for each athlete. Further back, Marie Pierre Parent, who served as the event’s honorary president and fired the starter’s gun, was moving herself through the field. Coached by Steve Cyr, she was employing the same technique light on the feet, power with the upper body, and pulled past a few dozen men, eventually moving herself all the way up to 4th place overall. In fact, if she had a bit more real estate, she may have closed on Eric Grimm! Back in the field, athletes were glad that the race was shortened. Many had eaten breakfast at 6 am prepping for the longer race and were already effectively running on empty by the 11 am start.
In the end, despite the curve that Mother Nature threw at the organizers, volunteers and athlete, the event was successfully pulled off. If the snow had been even 5 hours earlier in coming the 100 km would have happened on the traditional course. Organizers and athletes alike are already looking forward to next year’s events.
About the Author: Devashish Paul is an avid Masters Cross Country ski racer and Ironman triathlete, finishing 11th at the Lake Placid Loppet and 24th at the Keskinada. He has completed seven 100K skate ski races, and was glad to participate in the shortened version of the Boreal 100K, the Ironman of skate skiing and is already looking forward to next year’s race. He has written about the Boreal 100K loppet for the past few years here at Fasterskier.com
Photos from Journal Haute-CÃ´te-Nord