Five times the fun: All bets are off at the Jasper Winter Pentathlon
“I’ll buy you all beers if you can beat me in the Winter Pentathlon.” I’m the first to admit I’m a tad competitive. So when my buddy Jo Nadeau threw down the gauntlet, betting that he’d finish the ACFA’s sixth annual bike-ski-snowshoe-skate-and-run event before me and four of our fittest hockey-mates, I found myself accepting the challenge. I was aware that Jo’s being on sabbatical from his teaching job has allowed him to cross train like a freak this winter, whether doing laps on the ice wall at Maligne Canyon, sprint-skiing up the Opal Hills or doing endless burpees with the Fitness Network. But beating a team of five? We wouldn’t be burdened by having to switch gear. We wouldn’t be pumped full of lactic acid from the previous stages. We’d come into each event with a fresh set of lungs. I could already taste the victory suds. As it turned out, recruiting my fellow Pentahletes wasn’t as easy as I had hoped. As I ran down the list of friends who I thought could rise to the test, I was pelted with excuses. Work, school, ski trips, childcare…I figured Jo’s swagger had them scared. On the day of the race, however, it was me who was feeling the nerves. I had only managed to round up one other teammate, and although I knew Brian Van Tighem had lots of gas, I was a bit worried that his dreadlocks would be too wind-resistant. With an hour to go before the starter’s pistol was due to fire, a fortuitous text popped onto my phone. “Trevor Groth wants to skate,” it said. “Do you guys need another teammate?” This was indeed good news. Groth is one of the smoothest skaters in town. Chucking my skis in my car, I thought we might just have a chance. Arriving at the Activity Centre parking lot, I was greeted by a team of Jamaican bobsledders, a horde of zombie brides, a case of wine-os and a crowd of other costumed critters and crazies. Self-supported soloist Matt Staneland had his skis and poles strapped to a backpack which contained his snowshoes and skates. Remembering the fun-first philosophy of the Winter Pentathlon, my competitive instinct turned down a few notches. Still, as the cyclists lined up for the start of the race, I eked myself practically into pole position. As soon as the starter rang the bell, my legs jumped to life. However, I hadn’t done more than ten pedal revolutions before Jo edged by me. With a “see you at the top”-type smile, he was soon a distant speck. I secretly hoped he would run over a tack. I’ve biked up to Pyramid Lake plenty of times, but for a rookie racer like myself, there is something panic-inducing about doing it amongst a pack. It’s hard to settle in and you feel vulnerable, like a baby caribou being stalked by hungry arctic wolves. I’m pretty sure Meg Osborne growled as she sped past me. Getting to the top of the hill was bitter-sweet. I was happy to be tagging Brian so he could start his leg, but I was dismayed that Jo’s bike-to-ski transition didn’t seem to slow him down. Swishing across the perfectly-set track (thanks, Gilbert Wall!), he was now an even smaller speck, albeit one with furiously-pumping arms. Standing in the transition zone, watching the costumed participants come in, once again put the competition in perspective. It was pretty hard to yell at BVT to ski faster with Patti Nissen’s (fake) blood-stained bridal ensemble flowing by, or while Chewbacca stretched out his hairy quads. Even funnier was that Brian wasn’t aware that he needed to do two laps of the lake. We gave him the bad news after he just about red-lined trying to catch a neoprene-clad Bruno Bergeron. Personally, I was happy to wait; I wasn’t looking forward to lugging around the massive snowshoes Brian lent me. These beasts were more suitable for tree surveys in a forest of Kootenay powder than running 3.4 kms on a flat-packed lake. As I flopped my way around the course, I couldn’t decide what was more emotional: hearing the cheers echo off the natural amphitheatre as a group of us crunched our way closer to the transition zone, or the double-relief of ditching the misery slippers and passing the baton to our ringer, Trevor. Although Groth couldn’t make up the 16 minutes between him and our soloing nemesis, he did improve our overall karma, drafting for other skaters when a headwind whipped up. It was around this point, with nearly all of the athletes skiing, snowshoeing and skating around the lake (except for Jo, who had traded his skates for shoes long before and was heading to a 20-minute victory), that the true spirit of the Winter Pentathlon came to life. The Wine-os were popping their corks as other participants raced by, the Grease Monkeys were pumping each other’s tires and the Death Star Rebels were using the Force. Some of that energy must have rubbed off on Edmonton’s Jenny Wilson-Gibbons; the only female soloist was in hyperdrive all day. When the last participant crossed the finish line, when the last bowl of beef stew was consumed and when the last of the incredible locally-donated prizes were handed out, one only had to look around to see what the event meant to those involved. It was a day to not only be proud of Jasper’s diverse culture and its athleticism, but of our community spirit and people’s obvious connectedness to nature. And of course, it was a day to be glad that Jo’s training regiment means lately, he doesn’t drink much beer. The 2016 Winter Pentathlon was off the hook and thankfully—when it came to paying my debt, at least—so was I.