In a tradition that spans back generations of Yellowknife skiers, the 2023 Yellowknife Gold Loppet was held Sunday and participation was better than ever, said organizer Alyssa Titus.
“It used to be a couple of hundred (skiers). When I started organizing it five years ago, we had a record number of over 350, and this year we have 470 registered,” Titus said of the skiers who set off from Vee Lake to do either or any of the four, 15, or 25-km groomed trails.
She said there was a “real boost” in interest in cross-country skiing during the pandemic and with so much open space in which to ski and enjoy nature, many people are now making it a regular activity.
The term loppet originated in Europe, meaning a non-race ski event for all ages and abilities. The goal is to get people out to ski together and enjoy the trails, followed by having a meal together, Titus said.
And considering the number of participants in this year’s loppet, she said they exceeded their expectations in how the event is growing in popularity, 30 years since it first started.
John Stephenson, a long-time volunteer with the Yellowknife Ski Club, said the club’s trail groomers were out grooming and preparing the lengths of trails for many hours prior to Sunday’s event. High wind and snowy conditions prior to the loppet meant they had to redo sections of the trail to ensure it was in top conditions for the many skiers.
“The trails also go across Vee, Banting, and Walsh Lakes,” he said of the open areas where wind would sweep snow across the freshly groomed trails, making it a challenging job to keep them clear.
Titus said the loppet differs from the recent Frostbite 50 ski event because while the trails are well-groomed for the loppet, the Frostbite 50 trails are ungroomed and through wilderness areas.
While the maximum loop is 25 kilometres long, Titus said some of the high performance skiers have been known to ski the loops multiple times throughout the day.
“We do have some intrepid skiers doing that. One year, someone did the 25-km loop four times, conditions were so incredible that day,” she said.
And it wasn’t just Yellowknifers enjoying the spring ski – Titus said a couple that were visiting from Taiwan saw a notice about the Loppet and decided to sign up and ski for their very first time.
Start times varied during the morning, she said, beginning at 10 a.m. until 11:30, when people were able to bring their dogs along and join in on the event.
“A great thing about the Loppet is that it shows people that anyone can get out skiing and out in beautiful wilderness trails,” Titus said.
“It’s a very special event and our signature event of the year. It has by far the most participants. The whole point of it is having fun and getting out skiing with friends and family.”