Athletes hit the trail from Whitehorse on the 'ultimate adventure'

About 50 people from around the world headed out into –30 C temperatures on foot, skis and mountain bikes for the 15th annual Yukon Arctic Ultra race, which began Thursday.

About 50 people from around the world headed out Thursday for 15th annual Yukon Arctic Ultra race

A diverse group of adventurers set out Thursday morning from Whitehorse in a race billed as the world's coldest and toughest ultra. 

About 50 competitors travelling by foot, skis or mountain bikes are tackling the marathon, 100-mile or 300-mile routes, according to organizer Robert Pollhammer. In alternate years, competitors also have the option of a 430-mile trail to Dawson City, Yukon.

The racers all have their own motivation to undertake such a tough race, Pollhammer said. This year's event could be a cold one with temperatures expected to drop below –30 C at night.

Pollhammer said ultra racers often try one race and then get hooked on the unique sport.

"Especially with the Yukon, it's definitely of course this wilderness experience, being out in the middle of nowhere and finding out how insignificant we are, appreciating the luxury of everyday life, finding out you can do maybe more than you were thinking," he said.

Organizer Robert Pohlhammer says ultra racers often become hooked on travelling the world to find a new adventure. (Dave Croft/CBC)

As usual, competitors are coming from many parts of the world, said Pollhammer.

"We have our first Norwegian. It took a long time, I would have thought they would have come early because they're used to the cold. We have an interesting crew from Hong Kong this time, Serbia, Germany — you name it, they're all here," he said.

That first Norwegian, Frode Lein, said winters in Norway may not be as cold as people think.

He sees the Yukon race as the ultimate adventure. Lein is a journalist and will be reporting on it when he returns home.

Norwegian competitor Frode Lein says he sees the Yukon Arctric Ultra as the ultimate adventure. (Dave Croft/CBC)

Personally, he likes the opportunity for reflection.

"I think it's good for people to forget about everything around and Facebook and all this stuff and television, and so go back to the basic, and see what is needed," said Lein.

Lein, who has run in ultra races around the world, said it's also a chance to see humans at their most basic level.

"In races like this, the first two days, people try to be polite and try to be something else than they are. But after two days [they] can't fake anymore — then you see the people, and that's quite cool, that's good," said Lein.

Whitehorse resident Eva Holland, also a journalist, became interested after writing about the race four years ago. Going through a polar training course in Nunavut last year gave her more experience and knowledge about cold weather survival.

The racers pull a sled with their supplies. Holland said the ultra is as much about logistics as it is about fitness.

"You have to make sure your water doesn't freeze, you have to make sure your food doesn't freeze too solid for you to chew it.

 "You have to manage your layers, your sweat level," said Holland.

 "It's a lot of planning and sticking to your planning."

with files from Dave White