The 85 participants of this year’s Thebacha Loppet wondered what they had gotten themselves into when they awoke last Saturday to frigid temperatures with ice fog, but the bright sun warmed things quickly for the robust group that started from downtown Fitzgerald, Alta. on their annual 30-km ski adventure.
Cookies, tea and juice were on the menu at the first checkpoint at Goose Island, 10 km in. The skiers and a few snowshoers were carefully tracked by their numbers along the way and veteran organizers were in radio contact to monitor everyone’s condition in the cold temperatures.
At Halfway, a warm tent provided participants with soup, bannock, oranges and again, an amazing array of homemade cookies.
Many participants opted to start at Halfway due to the cold and skied the last trail segment in the warmer part of the day. Many younger participants started at the third and final Mountain Rapids station and skied in on the regularly groomed trails to the Fort Smith Nordic Centre ski club.
Organizers had been watching the temperature forecasts all week with their fingers crossed given the unseasonal cold spell. The projections were actually for colder temperatures and the prospect of cancellation or postponement loomed, but as if a gift from above, the forecasts became more favourable throughout the week.
Even at that, -23C was cold and wind was a factor. The race start time was delayed twice, ultimately starting at noon and even then, participants were counseled on the challenges of spending such a long time in the cold.
“I woke up that morning with great trepidation. My thermometer showed -42 and there was ice fog. The forecast was good but even then at -23 it is very cold,” said organizer Patti Kay Hamilton. “I was so impressed that people were still keen to go.”
She said the event went off without mishap, and she was pleased to receive some very positive feedback. Some of the skiers in the large contingent that came down from Yellowknife told her they particularly loved the way the event was so friendly and liked the “homey” potluck supper that followed.
“I received lots of great comments on how beautiful the views were along the trail. I was just really excited,” Hamilton said.