We have to drive to the start. For the first time in half a century, the marathon has abandoned the 80km leg between Ottawa and the midpoint of Montebello to start near the downhill resort of Mont Tremblant, with the organisers promising an even more beautiful itinerary through forests and across golf courses, around farmsteads and over frozen lakes.
Arriving a day in advance, my muscles are grateful for a morning of more familiar downhill skiing, followed by a massage at the nearby Scandinave spa, where pipes of the indigenous tribes’ music and a dip in the frozen Diable river prepare me for my initiation into this wintry landscape.
The marathon offers challenges to everyone, from fit to portly, from the youngest (aged six) to the oldest (aged 83), whose jerseys are a patchwork of badges from marathons past. Jackrabbit would be proud.
Most skiers aim to complete just a few of the ten 16km stages. So just a fraction of the 1,600 participants are at the start gate at 8am, where a loudspeaker calls us forward in batches. Given the word, we scuttle off, before finding a more natural pace, gliding through the open countryside.
The landscape is ever changing. Mostly we weave through wild woods, sometimes passing under arches of silver birch bent double by the snow. At one point we enter a forest of pine, whose trunks rise up like the columns of a cathedral above us, the canopy appearing like a vaulted roof. The girl in front stops to take a photo.
Soon we are beside the Rouge river, keeping pace with its fast flowing water as we follow an old railway line south, crossing the river on an iron girder bridge. Two pairs of ‘tram tracks’ have been cut into the snow for our skis, so I chat to other participants as I overtake them or they overtake me.
“Oh, you are on ‘escales’,”, says the Francophone girl who stopped to take the picture. She had heard my squeaky skis close in on her.
The marathon, like most long-distance events, is done in ‘classic’ style, rather than the faster, but energy-sapping, skate-skiing technique. The difficulty with the classic style is stopping your rear ski slipping back each time you throw yourself forwards on to the front ski. To help, classic skis have under the camber either a fishscale effect moulded in to the base (like mine), or furry skins (newly popular), or wax.