Skiing the Canadian Ski Marathon with Teenagers
By: Alain Nicolle
I have been skiing the Canadian Ski Marathon for 35 years now in various stages of my life and more recently I have enjoyed the adventure with my children from when they were 6 years old onwards. Now they are teenagers enjoying those 6am starts in mid-February that mark our lovable weekend.
So why ski the CSM with teenagers? Simple really. Teenagers are energetic, they live in the moment, they are youthful and they are downright fun. When challenged, they are able to perform incredible feats. And as I ski the Sir John A Macdonald (SJAM) trail along the Ottawa River on this blustery day with a 40km/h headwind, I am also reminded by the fact, that teenagers are indeed resilient. “Inspiring” sums it up for me.
As we all know, the CSM is not a race, it is an event to celebrate winter and skiing. I like to refer it as a festival of skiing, promoting the Nordic lifestyle, a philosophy where active outdoor living is a driving force. So getting teenagers to actively participate in the CSM only makes sense if you want them to adopt this way of life, and its ensuing health benefits.
So what is key for teenagers to ensure they enjoy the adventure and come back for more next year?
The CSM is a trip through forests, hills and fields. It is an awesome trek and I keep reinforcing to children and teenagers their innate sense of awe (that some adults loose unfortunately). I point out the beauty of what the trail offers us, its sights, its challenges. I mention, a few times during the day, that they should be impressed by what they are doing, and what others around them are doing, that I am impressed by what they are doing. That what they are doing is not “normal”, even for most adults. That being slightly out of the comfort zone typically provides a confidence building experience in the end.
The Jackrabbit quote “All my life I have been anxious to see what lies on the other side of the hill.” is part of my collection of inspirational quotes of the day especially since I was told that the second part of the quote was “And what is on the other side of the hill? Another hill to climb…”
I tend to reinforce humility, that you are not “beating” Mother Nature by finishing the CSM but simply that she is allowing a tie and that you should be thankful.
Thankfulness is reiterated during the day. Be thankful that you are there, enjoying the trip, and thank as many volunteers as possible.
With teenagers, I also support independence and ownership. As such, I insist that they carry their own gear for the day, including a down jacket and basic supplies (water, snack, waxing kit).
Fun is the operative word when it comes to teenagers. The CSM is physical of course but it is mainly mental. Children, teenagers (and even adults) will stop skiing more often than not because they are bored. As such, you need to choose wisely the sections to be skied (assuming that your teenager is not interested in the Coureur de Bois category (yet)). I believe most teenagers enjoy downhills and I would therefore suggest hillier and wooded terrain. I also like the last few sections of each day especially on the second day so that they can experience the “Finish” line and reinforce the sense of accomplishment.
Finally, I keep reiterating that the CSM is not a race and that it can be a very long day. I generally find myself slowing down the younger teenagers so that they do not “bonk” later in the day. I tell them to “control your speed and be rarely out of breath”.
Here are a few more things to watch for during the day.
Some teenagers are not particularly talkative so you need to keep a close eye on them to ensure they do not get to a bad place without verbal warning signs. Teenagers are typically less resistant to cold than adults so managing the stops accordingly is a good idea. They also do not normally have as much energy stores as adults and therefore need to feed and drink more often. I still recommend at least one stop halfway through the section, especially for the younger skiers and longer sections. And I insist that they drink at all water stations.
The CSM days can be long days and, as such, expect an emotional roller coaster, and deal with it with empathetic acknowledgement.
Skiing with friends can be highly motivating but they will want to choose their friends carefully, ideally friends that ski at the same speed. And to maximize the fun, they should have reviewed the plan in case one of them wants to stop. Will the rest of the group continue? Deciding this in advance will make the decision making on the spot much easier. Having multiple adults skiing with the teenagers can be great as well, especially when it comes to handling the potentially emotional situations mentioned above.