Yukon Arctic Ultra foot racers follow the Yukon River trail near the start of the race in Whitehorse on Feb. 1. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Yukon Arctic Ultra nears end after frigid delay

‘That moment I cannot get my crew out there to pick somebody up is the moment I have to stop the race’

After nearly a full day delay, the Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra is back underway with five athletes still competing to finish the 300-mile race from Whitehorse to Pelly Crossing.

As of 2 p.m. Feb. 5, South African Jethro De Decker is in first place followed by Canadian Ilona Gyapay, who is competing on skis.

Italian Roberto Zanada, Danish Asbjørn Bruun and Norwegian Frode Lein round out the top five.

The race — comprised of marathon, 100-mile and 300-mile categories — started at 10:35 a.m. the morning of Feb. 1 with start-line temperatures at a chilly -30 C.

Crossing the finish line at 3:45 p.m., Kristen Daniel won the marathon distance with Benjamin Harper and Katie Moon finishing second and third respectively.

Temperatures dropped to -45 C over night and racers began to drop out in the early morning hours of Feb. 2, leading race officials to put a hold on the race at Dog Grave Lake.

Organizer Robert Pollhammer said it came down to safety.

“During the period the race was held, we could not have guaranteed a rescue,” said Pollhammer. “That moment I cannot get my crew out there to pick somebody up [is] the moment I have to stop the race. That’s when it becomes unsafe.”

After nearly a day of holding racers at Dog Grave Lake, the race got back underway.

Italian Emanuele Gallo won the 100-mile race, reaching the finish line in Braeburn at 10:22 p.m. on Feb. 3.

Sweden’s Peter Mild finished just over two hours later at 16 minutes past midnight early Feb. 4.

At 2:19 a.m. on Feb. 4, German Tomas Jelinek finished the race in third.

Michelle Smith was the fourth athlete across the finish line and the first woman.

The other four athletes registered in the 100-mile race withdrew from the race.

The deadline for 300-mile racers to reach Pelly Crossing is eight days from the start — Feb. 9 this year — but will be extended by however long the athletes were delayed at Dog Grave Lake.

Delays ranged from four hours to 12 hours.

One of the most extreme races of its kind, athletes are required to take a basic training course or have prior experience from similar events before competing in the race.

Pollhammer explained that all athletes are also assessed when they reach checkpoints.

“We look at the athletes,” said Pollhammer. “So if somebody comes to a checkpoint and is totally hypothermic, then there are consequences which could be anything from withdrawing from the race to making [the athlete] stop to show us he can cope and recover because obviously we won’t let anybody go when we feel unsafe to begin with.”

With just half of 100-mile racers this year finishing, and an even lower percentage of 300-mile racers still in the race, Pollhammer said part of the appeal is the attrition racers have to deal with.

“They’re here to participate in the world’s coldest race and as long as we can guarantee transport off the trails, that’s what’s going to happen,” said Pollhammer. “They, in a strange way, enjoy it.”

Contact John Hopkins-Hill at john.hopkinshill@yukon-news.com

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