Loppet opens strong

BARRE CAMPBELL -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 7:07 AM ET

The Keskinada Loppet is coming out into the open.

Organizers of the annual cross-country ski festival in Gatineau have made changes to the courses in the longer races that will provide photo opportunities for friends and family of the participants.

Here's how it'll work.

Previously, the 29- and 53-km events would start behind the Mont-Bleu high school and head directly into Gatineau Park and the woods.

Unless you used a vehicle to track the progress of the racers at the sparse checkpoints along the route, the participants were out of sight until their return to the finish area at Mont-Bleu.

This year, the long races -- the classic style goes Feb. 18 and the freestyle events Feb. 19 -- will head south, instead of north into the park, along a new route before looping back to the high school approximately 9 kms into the race.

Then it's into the woods for the racers where they'll continue until returning to the finish.

'GOOD THING'

"It's a good thing for us to offer more visibility to the skiers," said Keskinada president Claude Laramee. "This way people will be able to see the skiers one more time. It's good visibility for them, for us and for our sponsors."

Upon returning to the stadium after the southern loop, the skiers will be in front of spectators for about 300 metres, so there's plenty of opportunity for shutter bugs and words of encouragement.

"It will be very spectacular," said Laramee.

As an added bonus, skiers who complete either the 53-km classic or freestyle events will receive a souvenir blue toque -- while supplies last -- to commemorate the accomplishment.

"It's very popular," said Laramee. "For the skiers, it's like their trophy. It says that they did it and that they're proud of their accomplishment."

The trophy toques disappeared during the last two years because loppet organizers couldn't land a sponsor. But ski apparel company Craft is bringing them back this year.

The event also has a new 16-km classic course for intermediate skiers.

As well, a large number of French skiers will participate in conjunction with this year's loppet having France as the featured guest country.


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