Monthly Archives: December 2015

Winter or not, cross country skiing thrives at some venues

Although I live in Ottawa, the world’s coldest and snowiest capital, this year’s mild weather has meant a very slow start to the cross country ski season. Traditional holiday outdoor outings  were replaced with other activities, and the beloved Boxing Day Burnoff was cancelled for the second year in a row due to lack of snow.

Here I am rollerskiing in unseasonably mild temperatures (17 deg C) on the Gatineau Parkway on Christmas eve, along with many cyclists.

Christmas Eve (640x307)

Unfortunately, this is a snapshot of winters to come, and our precious ski season could be shortened to just a few months. Canada’s average winter temperatures are rising, and according to a recent analysis, climate change may shorten the ski season by a third over the next century.

Other countries with milder climates have taken measures to help extend the ski season or supplement natural snow to ensure that skiing and racing events are possible.  While indoor facilities and snow-making are relatively new to cross-country skiing, these advancements occurred a while ago for ice sports and downhill skiing, where they are considered normal and a necessity.

Climate change has already affected winter sports in much of Europe, and many countries have taken steps to preserve the winter sports they love.  In 2004 my XC Ottawa teammate Craig reported on how some countries extended the ski season with ski tunnels and cooled ski tracks. Things have evolved since then. Here’s a look at what some facilities have done to allow cross country skiers enjoy their sport despite the weather.


Skiing Inside – Tunnels and Arenas

Europe has at least eight ski tunnels, which means that cross-country skiing can be a year-long activity and taken indoors, similar to the popular ice skating rinks all over Canada.  Sweden opened the Torsby ski tunnel in 2006, a facility geared to both recreational and elite athletes.

Finland is the world leader for indoor skiing, with six ski tunnels.  My XC Ottawa teammates Karl and Megan visited Finland’s first ski tunnel, the impressive  Vuokatti ski tunnel and ski loop in October 2014.  One loop of the complete track is about 6 km of skiing. The video below gives you a pretty good idea of tunnel and artificial loop skiing.

Germany has the popular Oberhof ski tunnel facility. They also host the largest biathlon event in the world – Biathlon auf Schalke (World Team Challenge) in the Veltins arena, an indoor stadium that also serves as a football stadium, ice hockey arena, a handball hall or a concert venue.  Here’s a video of this year’s competition.


Snow-making is a necessity at most European Nordic ski areas. In fact, most of the European FIS Word Cup races are possible because of artificial snow. Often racers are skiing on a white ribbon of man-made snow starkly contrasting a green background.  Some facilities store man-made snow from the previous winter, and lay it out as a base for more man-made snow. Skiers can typically start skiing outdoors as early as October at these centers.

In Norway, skiers could ski outdoors at the end of September this year at the Sjusjøen Skisenter  facility.

Norway SnowmakingIn Italy, the first of the Ski Classics series race in December, the La Sgambeda Loppet was possible, thanks to artificial snow.

In France, the French Championships get underway this week at the Stade des Tuffes facility, on a bed of artificial snow.

Stadde Des Tuffes

United States and Canada

Although snow-making was once exclusively the realm of downhill ski venues in the US and Canada, a growing number of US Nordic Centers have realized the importance of investing in artificial snow, as I noted last week.  The US has over 30 Nordic Centers that make snow, and many believe that snow-making is an essential component of cross country ski facilities. The New York Times highlighted the trend of New England ski centers in this article Creating Winter for Cross Country Skiers.

The State of Vermont has at least seven facilities that make snow.  Craftsbury Outdoor Center began snowmaking in 2011 and the track seems to improve every year.  They hosted over 500 racers at the successful NENSA season opener last weekend (the 5 km  event is pictured below), thanks to snow-making.

Nensa Loop5km course on Craftsbury Man-Made Loop (NENSA photo)

Last year I raced at the NENSA opener in Rikert Nordic Center in Middleburry, Vermont, also made possible by artificial snow. Boston-area skiers also benefit from artificial snow.

In Canada, the cooler climate has allowed cross country skiers to rely on Mother Nature, but the last decade has seen increasingly short cross country ski seasons.  Only a few places have invested in snow-making or snow preservation.  In the East, Foret Montmorency is a popular nordic facility with snow-making and snow preservation.   La Foret staff stock at least 6,000 m of the previous year’s snow under a thick coat of sawdust and top it off with man-made snow, to guarantee a 2km ski loop.  The loop includes steep uphills, downhills, and technical turns. Here’s a picture from this November 2015 at Montmorency: after a week of rain, the skiing was still good and snow depth impressive.

Sheila Montmorency (360x640)

In Western Canada, skiers in Canmore benefit greatly from Frozen Thunder at the Canmore Nordic Center, which typically opens in late October.  Frozen Thunder is possible because man-made snow from the previous year that is stored for this purpose.  And lucky skiers in Edmonton may soon see a longer ski season thanks to a partnership between the City of Edmonton and Edmonton Nordic Ski Club (ENSC).

It is fascinating to see how Europe has remained enthusiastic about cross country skiing despite the warming of their winter season and challenges in producing ski venues.  As our winters get warmer, perhaps we can learn from their endeavours to keep the sport alive.


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Racing in Craftsbury Thanks to Snow-Making

While “real” winter is taking its time to arrive in Ontario and Quebec, Nordic Centers that have invested in snow-making are making cross country skiing and racing possible.

Actually, not just possible, but providing impressive courses that can accommodate a large number of skiers.

Although snow-making was once exclusively the realm of downhill ski venues, a growing number of Nordic Centers in New England have realized the importance of investing in artificial snow. The US has over 30 cross-country ski facilities that make snow, with at least seven of those located in Vermont.  Some believe that snowmaking is an essential component of cross country ski facilities.

This past weekend I once again appreciated the benefits of snow-making when I raced with the XC Ottawa racing team at the NENSA Season Opener at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center in Northern Vermont.  In 2011 after a series of dismal snow winters, Craftsbury followed the lead of other New England nordic centers and ventured into snow-making. While snow-making may seem at odds with Craftsbury’s “green” mission, they explain their snow-making process and rationale here.  Last year we attended the NENSA opener in Rikert Nordic Center in Middleburry, Vermont, also made possible by artificial snow. Boston-area skiers also benefit from artificial snow.

Canadian skiers are not as lucky . . . in the East, Foret Montmorency is a popular nordic facility with snow-making.  Skiers travel from far and wide to ski at Montmorency, and the quality of the loop is improving every year.

In Western Canada, skiers in Canmore benefit greatly from Frozen Thunder at the Canmore Nordic Center.  And lucky skiers in Edmonton may soon see a longer ski season thanks to a partnership between the City of Edmonton and Edmonton Nordic Ski Club (ENSC).

When you consider the number of indoor heated ice skating arenas and manmade outdoor rinks that allow so many to enjoy a winter sport, artificial snow ski loops do make sense!

Racing on the Craftsbury Artificial Snow Loop

In Craftsbury, I wondered how organizers could accommodate 500+ racers on a 650m loop. It was certainly beyond expectations! The width of the loop meant organizers could divide it into multiple lanes, and a trail through the middle made a variety of courses possible.

Previewing the race course on FridayChecking out the course on Friday. Coach Kieran is helping Kyla with ski choice.

We were lucky enough to stay at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center along with Nakkertok Nordic. There’s nothing better than being close to a race course (we could watch the races from our room!), and the accommodations and amazing meals at Craftsbury are perfectly suited to cross country skiers.

A room with a view!
A room with a view!

Saturday’s schedule was a sprint event (1.3 km). Typically the top 30 men and women qualify for heats, but organizers reduced this to the fastest 16. Canada’s Quebec men were impressive, representing almost half of the racers that qualified for the heats in the competitive North American field.  Friday night Craftsbury got REAL snow! This made the loop even better and the white ribbon on green effect disappeared.

My teammate Megan previewing the race course.
My teammate Megan previewing the sprint course.

Hill On Sprint Course

Men’s Quarter Final. Photo from NENSA.

The new snow combined with artificial snow improved the track considerably. Sunday’s event was an individual start skate race (5km), with very large and competitive fields. Organizers devised a really fun figure 8 loop that racers completed 5 times.  While it meant that there were a lot of skiers out on course at the same time, for the most part this worked out pretty well.

A tricky part of the weekend was the warm-up routine. Given that racers were on the loop, for most racers warm-up was either running and/or using the equipment in Craftsbury’s well-equiped gym, which is situated right beside the loop.

Warming up on ski erg

Here are some pictures of my XC Ottawa teammates Karl and Andre racing in the 5 km event (from NENSA).

Nensa Andre3Nensa Karl

And local Club Skinouk racer Alexis Turgeon (#302), who took the win for the day!


My races were decent for this time of year, finishing in the top third or quarter of the field both days. Frankly, I was just happy to be skiing!

Here are the full results for the weekend:

Women’s sprint qualifying

Men’s sprint qualifying

Sprint heats

Women & girls 5 k

Men & boys 5 k





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Getting Ready to Race in Silver Star

I am currently vacationing with family and friends at Silver Star Mountain Resort, one of my favourite xc ski destinations. Located  in south-central BC,  the area is usually amazing for early season cross country skiing. The temperature is mild, and there is plenty of snow (it’s snowed over 70 cm since we arrived 6 days ago).

The very best part about Silver Star is that from most accommodations, you can ski from the door, with groomed “skiways” that lead to the major trails! This is our fifth year staying with friends at the Silberne Spitzen house, a beautiful place perfectly equipped for skiers in many ways.

Tracks To House (640x480)Just a few steps from the house to get on the Knoll Ski Way

Along with the adjacent Sovereign Lake network, there are over 100 km of beautiful xc ski trails. And if you can’t get enough skiing in during the day, you can ski on a well lit trail after the sun goes down.

Night Ski (640x480)Part of the night loop

A popular outing is to ski over the mountain to the adjacent Sovereign Lakes Nordic Center, which features long climbs and descents not typical of most ski trails. Most of this on the aptly-named Paradise trail.

Mountain Top Snow (640x398)Heading over the mountain – too much snow for the groomers to keep up!

The racing gets underway this weekend at Sovereign Lakes, with a NorAm competition that includes skate sprints on Saturday and individual start skate races on Sunday.  I’ll be racing a 10km Sunday around a fun 5km loop.

Sovereign Venue (640x480)Sovereign Lake Nordic Race Venue

Yukon Team (640x480)

And after the race it’s back to Ottawa, which will be quite the contrast!


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What Foods Are Good Sources of Protein?

Protein is essential for life and an important part of every cell in our bodies. The building blocks of protein, amino acids, are needed to repair cells, build and repair muscles, and to make hormones, enzymes, and antibodies. Protein can also influence our immune function and metabolism.

THIS CHART gives you an idea of how much protein you’ll find in a variety of foods.

How Much Protein Sm

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How Much Protein Do You Need?

The amount of protein that you need depends on your age, weight, and how active you are.  The Recommended Dietary Allowance for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram per day (or 0.36 g per pound) for adults; children need more because they are still growing. This works out to about 45 g/day for a 125-lb (57 kg) adult, 55 g for a 150-lb (68 kg) adult, and 65 g for a 180-lb (82 kg) adult.

But new research is showing that this estimate might be on the low side, particularly for certain groups of people (athletes, older individuals).

THIS CHART shows suggested daily protein intakes based on your activity level.

Daily Protein Requirments 28Oct2015

Does it Matter When I Eat Protein?

smoothie cover higher textYes. Your body can only store and use a small amount of protein at a time, so when you eat protein influences how your body uses it.

Most people tend to consume enough protein, but the way it’s typically distributed throughout the day isn’t optimal for muscle building or repair.

Your body needs about 20 to 30 grams at a time for muscle building processes: most people don’t consume this amount in the morning, but eat two to three times the amount they need at dinner.

Eating large amounts of protein at one sitting doesn’t help muscles, as it’s not “saved for later” like carbohydrates or fat are, but used for energy or stored as fat. So, although someone could be getting the amount of protein they need in a day, because it’s not properly distributed, they aren’t getting what their body needs.

Build a Better Breakfast

Breakfast is likely the meal where you are falling short, so consider adding Greek yogurt, eggs, cottage cheese, or other high-protein foods to meet your protein needs. Or try this nutritious breakfast, one of my favourites!

READ  6 Healthy Morning Meals: The Science Behind Breakfast

More Information on Protein Intake

This article provided a brief overview, but for more information on optimal protein intake, best ways to meet your protein requirements, what a day’s worth of protein looks like, protein distribution, and protein supplements, read this article.

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