I heard about the CSM for the first time from friends over Christmas 1999 and shortly thereafter, decided to try the Coureur des Bois Bronze in February 2000. With very little preparatory training, poor equipment and clothing and no real knowledge about the event, I completed nine of 10 sections, had open sores on the top of my feet from ice in my ski boots, was dead tired, and totally hooked on the challenge!
I have participated in each CSM since 2000 and have many fond memories, learned how to succeed at completing it under all sorts of conditions, and above all, enjoyed the camaraderie of the volunteers and fellow participants of all ages. Failing to complete my first Bronze as well as my first Gold resulted in good learning lessons, which I welcomed from other participants. The willingness to share techniques and tricks of how to be ready for the ever changing CSM ski conditions and routes and the help provided by fellow participants and the ever present volunteers just added to the feeling of accomplishment when you finish a CSM successfully.
I ski at a relatively slow and steady pace and usually make the cut-off to start section 5 each day with about 10 to 15 minutes to spare. Normally it takes me about 11 hours of skiing each day to complete the marathon and for the last 12 years have done so successfully. It was even more enjoyable when my eldest daughter was able to join me on the CSM including the Gold camp in her last year. It was a wonderful family experience!
The Gold Camp is always special and one of the highlights of the CSM. The challenge that it represents whether it is -25C plus wind or you wake up covered in snow, there is always a willingness to help each other and the volunteers ensured that there was enough hay/straw, wood for the fire and hot water. They are an awesome presence who make the CSM possible! Over the years, you meet up with the same skiers as well as volunteers and you begin to feel like one, big family.
It is the mingling of all levels of expertise, all ages of participants, the pleasant and omnipresent volunteers and the hard working CSM leadership that make this event so unique and special. The CSM Board has always been courageous in making the tough decisions with safety of everyone uppermost in their minds. I remember in 2002 when the first day of the CSM had to be cancelled due to pouring rain at the start of day one as the temperature dropped to -20C within four hours in a flash freeze and yet managed to salvage day two thanks to the excellent trail grooming skills of the volunteers. I also remember when there was no snow until the middle of January and the decision was made to continue planning the event which did run as scheduled. And when lack of snow made an east-west route unsafe, the leadership came up with a north-south route on very short notice to ensure that the event could run.
The Canadian Ski Marathon is many things, from the participants, the many volunteers and the focused leadership that bring it all together to create one of the premier xcountry skiing events in the world. It is an outstanding challenge for everyone- the participants and the volunteers. Whether you finish it or not, whether you participate as a Coureur des Bois or a Tourer or a volunteer, your experience is unique, challenging and very worthwhile. The CSM is a Canadian success story, which I hope will continue for generations to come. I very much look forward to the next one.
Joep Diening – Permanent bib # 220