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20th Yukon Arctic Ultra leaves Whitehorse this Sunday

Racers set to go on marathon, 100 and 300 mile routes
Racers testing themselves against the 100-mile route leave the Yukon Arctic Ultra start line at Shipyards Park in Whitehorse on Feb. 3, 2022. (Jim Elliot/Yukon News file)

The Yukon Arctic Ultra, billed as the toughest and coldest race of its kind anywhere in the world, is all set for its 20th running, with racers crossing the start line this weekend.

Organizer Robert Pollhammer said that as the race has grown over more than two decades, close bonds have remained among those who have attempted, completed or helped organize the gruelling challenge. Pollhammer recounted the event’s growth from about 20 participants the first year, taking on the 100- or 300-mile races, through to the addition of longer and shorter distances and innovations in safety.

“Even if we have our Dawson race. I don’t ever expect more than 80 people or so because that’s just the way we organize the race, for safety and also for the experience. Athletes really appreciate the family-like atmosphere, and we will lose that if we will try to push beyond 100,” he said.

The start of the 2024 race is set for 10:30 a.m. on Feb. 4 in Whitehorse’s Shipyards Park. The athletes will have ice spikes on their footwear, but any spectators are encouraged to exercise caution due to significant ice buildup at the park.

A total of 46 people are registered for the 2024 Ultra’s three distances. Thirteen athletes will start the marathon distance, 15 are ready for the 100-mile race and 18 will embark on the longest distance: 300 miles.

The 450-mile race to Dawson City is run every other year, and 2024 is not one of them.

“So, not surprisingly, in the marathon, we have a lot of Canadians, one German and one person from Mexico, which I think is quite cool. It’s my understanding. He’s here with his father, who will also have a little bit of an adventure, seeing his son,” Pollhammer said.

The field for the 100-miler includes Canadians and Americans as well as people from the Netherlands, Switzerland, England, Ireland and Germany. Countries represented among the 300-mile racers are: Canada, the United States, Wales, England, Serbia and Spain.

Along with a strong local field running the frosty marathon, Whitehorse residents Scott Herron and Ric Horobin are fat biking the 100-mile race and Greg Newby is doing it on foot. Jeff Larsen is the sole Yukoner entered in this year’s 300-mile race.

The race’s route for the marathon finishes near Muktuk Adventures, while the longer races will go north on the Dawson Overland Trail, the same route followed by the Yukon Quest sled dog race, which departs the day before the Ultra. The 100-mile route terminates in Braeburn, while the 300-mile race will continue to Pelly Crossing. Pollhammer said that if conditions on the Pelly River were safe, it could be used to access Pelly Farm before racers would return to Pelly Crossing on the farm road. Pollhammer said that due to the amount of jumble ice on the river, the 300-mile racers will probably go out to the farm and back on the road.

Despite the challenges associated with this winter’s inconsistent temperatures, Pollhammer said the Canadian Rangers and others had been hard at work ensuring the trail is usable for both the Yukon Quest mushers and the Arctic Ultra athletes. Although it might not be pretty in places, Pollhammer said the athletes will be able to handle the trail conditions.

There is also nothing in the weather forecast they aren’t prepared for — Pollhammer said an overnight temperature around -30C is expected on the race’s first night, but in years gone by, athletes have coped when it was about that cold.

“Not saying it’s not dangerous. If you make mistakes, you get in trouble quickly. But normally, they’re all good in those temperatures, and yeah, it doesn’t look like it’s gonna go beyond that. -40C at night is starting to get more critical, of course, and certainly not any -50C in the forecast at the moment, so I think temperature-wise we’re going to be OK,” Pollhamer said.

The 2024 field includes Jovica Spajic, an elite ultrarunner from Serbia who has entered the race twice before but, according to Pollhammer, hasn’t completed it due to setting a punishing pace amid the frigid temperatures. Pollhammer added that Spajic has learned lessons and placed very well in other cold-weather races ahead of this year’s Arctic Ultra 300.

Also in the race is Daniel Benhammou, a multiple-time finisher

“He just keeps coming back because he likes it,” Pollhammer said.

Alex De Sain of the Netherlands is back for a third try at the 100-mile route. He encountered misfortune on the trail twice, having to withdraw in his first outing due to a sled that was too heavy and once with a twisted ankle.

Dave Colley of Hornby Island B.C. is setting out to tackle the 300-mile course at 74 years old.

Contact Jim Elliot at

Jim Elliot

About the Author: Jim Elliot

I’m a B.C. transplant here in Whitehorse at The News telling stories about the Yukon's people, environment, and culture.
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