How to reach the area
The race is in the Gatineau Park, Hull, Quebec which is only a few minutes (across the Ottawa River) from the city of Ottawa, the national capital.
To reach Hull, fly to Ottawa via Montreal or Toronto. You can take public transit, a taxi or rent a car from the airport.
If you stay at one of the official hotels (highly recommended) you can take a bus to the School where the start and the finish is. Purchase a book of tickets in advance (ask the hotel) or you will need exact change on the bus.
The race head quarters is located in a school. The start / finish area is 100 meters from the school . Sufficient parking is at a college next to the school. The walk from the parking to the gym or the starting line is between 200 and 500 meters.
Registration is in the school gym. In the gym, there is seating in the middle. It is very nice to either be able to wait in your car or in the warm gym before the start.
Around the perimeter there are 2-3 ski shops with very nice displays and waxing services. In the school there are toilets and shower facilities. Many people choose to leave their bags in the gym or in other public areas of the school while racing. I am not aware of any lockable lockers.
Results are posted on the hall way walls as the finishes occur. They go up regularly as the finishers go over the line.
Massages are available in the school, though there always seems to be a line.
The cafeteria of the school is where the post race meals are served. The food is wholesome and hot and there is just enough to fill you up.
The race always seems to have a plenty of people assisting with the race. I found the volunteer and race staff are very courteous and helpful.
Feed Stations: In the past they have had warm water, tea, and sports drink. They also have had bananas, oranges at one stop, dates, and chocolate covered raisins. The areas are usually long enough to avoid crowding and at wide spots along the track.
I do not recall seeing any wax rooms in the school.
All the races start on the flat athletic fields of the schools. The trail winds around the fields for less than 1 km then enters some woods on a slight incline. Unfortunately this 200 meter incline is also where the trail narrows to 4 tracks wide. It can create a traffic jamb, broken poles, and all those other annoying early race conflicts.
At the top of the incline the crowd is usually spread out. This is just 1 of 2 real choke points.
The course seems to change a little each year. The 2006 race is listed as longer than in the past.
Much of the course is on the park roads. This gives you all the room you need to skate as many as 4 people wide. They usually have 2-4 tracks for the classic races as space allows.
The Penguin is a very steep up hill with 3 false peaks that is well worth skiing before the race just to get the feel of it. In past races it was at the 11-12 kilometer mark, but in 2006 they show it much later in the race. The short races do not do the Penguin at all. These two adjustments probably reduce the traffic jambs on that hill.
The short races include a very tough but shorter up hills at 3 locations. They always seem to be on sections of the trail just after you leave the roads.
Much of the race is held on the wide park roads. There are long steady climbs which seem to go on for ever. If the conditions are fast, the downs on the roads can be terrific, if not a bit scary.
Skiers seem to almost always be very polite and courteous. They stay to the right and give way readily.
The finish stadium splits the skiers into the long and short races.
There are some tricky down hills turns in the last 2 km. It would be worth skiing those.
For the long races, go see the “Penguin”. It’s worth knowing where the false peaks are.
For all the races, I would ski the first 5-6 km to get a sense of how tough it can be.
This race is notorious for cold weather. I suffered from mild hypothermia in 2005 but after a change of hat and gloves and adding a layer at the 40k mark, I felt fine. Be prepared.
The race changes altitude quite a bit at the Penguin. The snow conditions at the top can vary greatly from below. If it’s klister at the bottom, you may find powder at the top. Find out what its like at the top if you can. Bring extra wax if you are not sure.
There are “civilians” on the course. They are not savvy to what is happening some times, so watch out.
The views to the west from the top of the plateau in the Park are spectacular. If you have the time to ski out for a casual ski, check out those views.
Things to see
The race is in the Gatineau Park, Hull, Quebec which is only a few minutes (across the Ottawa River) from the city of Ottawa, the national capital. There are many museums, theatres and the Parliament Buildings for those who would like to spend an additional 3 or 4 days sightseeing or have a non skier traveling companion looking for entertainment. Check www.ottawakiosk.com. For information on places to stay and visit.
Winterlude Festival runs from the weekend before the Gatineau to the day of the race in both Hull and Ottawa. Ice sculptures, special events, world’s longest skating rink (Rideau Canal).
Want another skiing challenge? The Canadian Ski Marathon (CSM) takes place on the weekend before the Gatineau. A tour more than a race, it covers 160 km over 2 days, classic technique, on a trail ( a bit rough in parts) between Buckingham (near Hull) and La Chute (near Montreal). Visit www.csm-mcs.com for details.
The forecast is available at AccuWeather.
The web site for the race is at www.keskinada.com.