Yukon Arctic Ultra race continues, despite -40 C weather

After a brief halt because of extreme cold temperatures, the 'world's coldest and toughest ultra' carries on.

'That's what they come here for,' says organizer of long distance backcountry race

A racer at one of the many checkpoints along the Yukon Arctic Ultra trail. Competitors have had to contend with extreme cold temperatures since the race began last Thursday. Only a few people are still on the trail, aiming to complete the 482-kilometre (300-mile) route. (Martine Wolff/Yukon Arctic Ultra)

And the race goes on.

After a brief halt because of extreme cold temperatures, the Yukon Arctic Ultra race resumed on the weekend. The decision was made despite the continuing cold conditions, and several cases of frostbite. Nearly half of this year's roster scratched from the race.

"Even the athletes who are concerned by the problems say it's billed as 'the world's coldest and toughest.' So you know, people know what they get themselves into," said race organizer Robert Pollhammer.

"We warn them, and not one time has any athlete ever complained to me afterwards and said, 'how could you?'"

Race organizer Robert Pollhammer at the Braeburn checkpoint on Monday. 'People know what they get themselves into,' he said. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

It was about –30 C when the long distance, backcountry race began in Whitehorse last Thursday morning. By that night, the temperature had dropped below –40 C and many racers soon decided to pull the plug.

By Friday, many had dropped out, and some had gone to hospital to be treated for frostbite. The race was suspended.

By Sunday, things were back on track even though the weather had not warmed. 

"I understand that local people, and people maybe back home, think this is crazy and shouldn't be happening — but that's what [the athletes] come here for," Pollhammer said.

Italian racer Emanuele Gallo won this year's 160-kilometre (100 mile) race, when he arrived at the Braeburn checkpoint on Saturday evening. Second place finisher Peter Mild from Sweden arrived a couple of hours later.

Six racers are still competing in the 482-kilometre (300-mile) route, destined for Pelly Crossing. Four are travelling on foot, and two on skis.  

 "I know we won't see any records broken this year," Pollhammer said.

The weather forecast promises little relief. Carmacks is not expected to see temperatures go above –30 C until at least Friday. Nights will be about –40 C. 

Don't let the sunshine fool you. It's painfully cold this week in Yukon. (Martine Wolff/Yukon Arctic Ultra)

With files from Sandi Coleman

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