British Columbia

'A crazy event': Prince George Iceman celebrates 30 years of outdoor endurance

For 30 years athletes have skied, run, skated and swam in the Prince George Iceman, but the original version was supposed to be a lot harder.

Athletes of all ages ski, swim, run and skate in annual competition

After skiing, athletes run the snowy streets of Prince George to skate on the outdoor oval before taking another run to dive into a nearby pool. (PG Iceman)

This weekend, athletes in Prince George, B.C., will race eight kilometres on cross-country skis, run 10 kilometres into town, skate 12 laps around the outdoor ice oval, then run another five kilometres before going for an 800-meter swim.

It's the 30th annual Prince George Iceman, and it was originally supposed to be even harder.

"The initial idea was very crazy," laughed Amanda Hallmark, an Iceman volunteer who recently researched its history for a local history class.

The first Iceman was held in 1988 as part of the Canadian government's Celebrate '88 initiative to go with the Calgary Olympics.

Funding was made available for Canadian cities to showcase winter sports, and a group of outdoor enthusiasts in Prince George conceived the "Iceman Relay."

It wasn't until its second year, in 1989, that the Prince George Ice Man warranted photos in the local newspaper. Today it is a keystone of the city's sporting calendar. (Prince George Newspaper Archives/Prince George Citizen/Prince George Public Library)

Their initial version had competitors cross-country skiing up Tabor Mountain, switching to downhill skis to get down before biking 20 kilometres into town to skate, run and swim.

Not many people signed up.

"I think there were eight people willing to give this a go," Hallmark said.

The race was cancelled when temperatures dropped to below -30 C, giving organizers a chance to revise their plans and come up with a more achievable race.

Since then, the competition has grown from having 50 people in 1988 to more than 600 in recent events, with athletes ranging in age from elementary school students to seniors. 

Over 100 volunteers are needed to block traffic, keep time and prepare venues for the annual Prince George Iceman. (Prince George Iceman)

Hallmark thinks part of the event's popularity stems from the fact that variable weather makes it difficult to compare times and speeds from year to year, decreasing pressure to compete.

One year conditions were so warm that skaters had to form into a 'funnel' in order to pass through a one-metre wide patch of ice.

Other years have been quite a bit colder, with the official cutoff for cancelation being -20 C, which has only happened twice.

Hallmark explained the cutoff is less for the athletes and more for the hundreds of volunteers who have to stand outside for hours to make the event happen.

She said she only expects the popularity to grow as endurance events such as Tough Mudder take off.

For the 30th Prince George Iceman organizers printed a retro t-shirt using the logo from 1988. It is already sold out. (Prince George Iceman)

"If you think about it, this is the original and this is in the winter which makes it even crazier and tougher," she said.

"I think because we're in Northern British Columbia where community and winter, all of these elements, make us who we are. Something like the Iceman makes us who we are."

The 30th Prince George Iceman takes place Sunday, Feb. 12.

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