May 30, 2013 Features & Images » Feature Story

Cold to be cool 

Do you really need to know how to ski to finish a winter adventure race in the Arctic? Not if you're from South Africa.

click to flip through (9) PHOTO BY LESLIE ANTHONY - Teams raced a total of 77 kilometres over two days.
  • Photo by Leslie Anthony
  • Teams raced a total of 77 kilometres over two days.

Page 5 of 7

The Americans could have used a little polar bear meat. Still short of everything, they'd been reduced to beggars. When Daniel asked "Any questions?" A hungry Mike Kloser raised his hand. "Yeah. Does anyone have any granola or toast to spare?"

At a cold start line, Tommy George introduced the race mercifully quickly. An elder recited a prayer in Inuktitut over a bullhorn and the teams were off. The course wrapped along the bay, tracking a thin line of trees before lifting racers onto open plateau. That it was hell in a whiteout was confirmed by the many inukshuk crowning larger rocks beside the trail.

Though they'd switched to heavier skis, Spin Sports was again out front, trailed by a large, white husky. The dog followed up the long ridge to CP one before it was distracted by other traffic: racers, marshals with bear rifles, qamutiq full of cheering spectators, and stumbling media. Out There was racing on the carbon-fibre skis that Spin Sports had used in the Prologue — a calculated loan ("They were fast but unstable, so we figured the trade-off was worth it to use heavier skis that were better for downhilling.") — and were breathing down the Quebeckers' frosted necks, both teams dashing from CP one only 100-metres apart. Aware of the Americans' potential, Spin Sports skated powerfully to open a gap that would only widen over the day. Next came Endurance-Mag, which had proven itself up for any winter task. Then Pedini, Pacalula, Bobkittens, Stefania, Monts-Torngats, and finally, South Africa — now tramping spryly on snowshoes. Without skiing skills, they'd decided to simply soak up the experience, a relaxed camaraderie that sets adventure racing apart from Ironmans or ultramarathons.

Mostly alone now, teams experienced the silence and grandeur of the land: wide vistas, sharp hillocks, titanic boulders; occasional eruptions of bonsai trees wrapped in sculpted snow like some tundra Zen garden; squadrons of snowbirds, peeling away low to the ground, indistinguishable from the plates of hardened snow that flew from their boots.

The lakeside CP 10 featured a tiny hunter's hut in which racers could avail themselves of a moment's respite before hitting a mettle-testing "extreme loop" of almost 20 kilometres that carried over several mountains to the frozen Korok River (a migration route for polar bears), before looping back to the big rappel at CP 16, atop one of the whaleback ridges where Nunavik laps against the Torngat Mountains. The well-frosted lead teams had passed quickly, barely speaking to the TV crew helicoptered in for interviews. Pedini-Iret, Sartori's beard caked in frozen tea, had cruised in with plenty of time before the 1 p.m. cut-off that would force teams to skip the extreme loop, but once out on the lake appeared disoriented, beelining toward camp and missing the rappel. Was something lost in translation? Did they follow an errant snowmobile? Too cold to continue? No one would ever know.

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