Ski competition organizers hoping to clear Gatineau trails
Heavy snow, downed trees and branches making cleanup difficult ahead of February competition
Canada's largest cross-country ski competition is facing a messy headache in Gatineau Park after recent heavy snow, and volunteers are working against the clock to clear trails ahead of time.
The Gatineau Loppet, which runs every February, is held on nearly 200 kilometres of trails throughout the park. This year it will be held from Feb. 15-17.
More than half of the trails maintained mechanically are open, but only a quarter of back trails are accessible so far.
Downed trees and brush from heavy snow have made it hard for organizers and the National Capital Commission to prepare the trails for the competition.
"At the beginning it was so beautiful … but it was a disaster zone at the same time. It was beautifully sad. I have no other way of expressing it," said Linda Landry, who lives in Chelsea, Que., and answered the NCC's call for volunteers to help clear the trails.
Landry said the trails were treacherous, some with banks of snow four feet deep.
"It was incredibly dangerous. You didn't even know where you were," Landry said.
The volunteers shook branches to allow other people with chainsaws to cut down problematic branches safely.
"After we had the big storms, I was freaking. The trees were all over the courses, all over the trails," said Yan Michaud, president of the Loppet, who went skiing recently to examine the trails.
Competition organizers anticipate about 2,500 skiers
About 2,500 skiers are expected to participate in the weekend competition, including Olympic hopefuls.
Cleaning up the park's trails is normally a big job for volunteers, but this year has been especially difficult.
"The paths that they groom may take three weeks. But some of the back trails, I don't think they'll ever make it," said volunteer Bill McGee.Despite the storms and heavy snow, Michaud said he believes the trails will be ready before the event.