Fifty-four skiers between the ages of eight and 67 braved cold weather and a mass start Feb. 23 to participate in the Omineca Ski Club’s annual Lakes Loppet & Family Marathon.
The event kicked off with a start-line toast to local resident and cross-country ski pioneer Jean Paulson, who passed away Feb. 21, 2014.
Born in 1926, Paulson was one of the first women to compete in cross-country ski racing. Even after retiring from competition, her love for the sport kept her involved with the ski club for decades. In the early 1980s, she started the popular children’s Jackrabbit ski program, and offered adult ski lessons for many years.
She remained a recreational skier well into her ‘golden’ years, participating in the Loppet at age 84.
“Jean taught hundreds of people to ski,” said Doug Campbell, who led Sunday’s toast to Paulson. “For many people, Jean was their introduction to the ski club, and she always made them feel most welcome.”
Organizers feel that Paulson would have been proud of this year’s Loppet, the first to offer skiers a choice of four trails ranging in length from five-kms to 50. In the past, only one trail was used, and registrants wanting to ski longer distances had to complete it several times, explained organizer Alison Patch.
The fastest man to complete the 50-kms Epic Trail was Tony Fiala of Prince George, who posted a time of 2:57:30. Burns Lake’s Susan Russell was the fastest woman in the long-distance event, finishing in 5:59:00.
A husband and wife team from Vanderhoof posted top finishes in the 20-kms distance. David Zurevinski completed the Viewpoint Trail in 1:11:46, while wife Sonya finishing a little less than 11 minutes later with a time of 1:22:33.
The Mark West family of Burns Lake powered through the 15-kms Flatlander trail in a time of 2:45:00.
Patch noted that this year’s Loppet would not have been possible without incredible volunteer support. Heavy snowfalls a week prior the race necessitated that the tracks be groomed three times.
Some of the club’s trails hadn’t even been opened prior to the event, and only the intense effort of several club members had them ready by race day.
Other volunteers manned two check points on race day to ensure that participants had access to food and drink.
Loppet is a Scandinavian term used to describe a large, long-distance cross-country skiing event. One of the most famous such events is the Mora Vasaloppet in Sweden, which draws approximately 15,000 competitors annually.