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Yukon Arctic Ultra temporarily halted due to extreme cold

The world's coldest ultramarathon lives up to its name

Yukon Arctic Ultra
Yukon Arctic Ultra
Photo: Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra.

Extreme conditions at the Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra, dubbed “the world’s coldest” ultramarathon, forced organizers to temporarily halt the race.

The Feb. 1-9 ultra, which follows the Yukon Quest trail, features a marathon, 100-miler, 300-miler and 430-miler, all of which begin in Whitehorse. On Feb. 2, race organizers issued a “high alert status,” which means the race is “halted.” As such, participants who had not scratched were not permitted to continue once they reached the next checkpoint. Temperatures dipped to -45 C, according to the Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra.

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A number of participants were taken to hospital and treated for frostbite, according to the update. “Unfortunately, the extreme cold has led to mechanical problems,” organizers said the following day, on Feb. 3, on the race website. “We are experiencing snow machine and generator failures.” The race was again put on hold as a number of people had to be rescued by a photographer on a snowmobile (who was not on course for rescuing purposes) from the backcountry.

Once the race again got underway, Italy’s Emanuele Gallo was the first to complete the 100-mile (160K) route, arriving at Braeburn at 10:11 p.m. local time on Feb. 3. The race reports, via a Feb. 5-dated post, entitled “Another cold day in beautiful Yukon,” that Michelle Smith was the first woman to complete the 100-miler.

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Race rules state that athletes must carry certain items on them at all times because of the extreme conditions the Yukon experiences during the winter. Gear includes a fire starter, sleeping bag rated down to -45 C, a windproof lighter, bivouac bag or tent and a small saw, among several other items. The course can be completed on foot, on a bike or on skis.

The latest update from Feb. 5 states that temperatures have warmed to -30 C and that the 300- and 430-mile racers are still on course.