Can the ‘world’s toughest ultra’ race power through the pandemic? Maybe not, organizer says



a group of people standing in the snow: Racers set off from Whitehorse in the 2018 Yukon Arctic Ultra. Right now, the 2021 race is tentatively set to begin on Feb. 7 but organizers are still trying to figure out whether it can happen amid the COVID-19 pandemic.


© Philippe Morin/CBC
Racers set off from Whitehorse in the 2018 Yukon Arctic Ultra. Right now, the 2021 race is tentatively set to begin on Feb. 7 but organizers are still trying to figure out whether it can happen amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Competitors in the annual Yukon Arctic Ultra race contend with a lot — long hours of darkness and solitude, grueling and remote back-country trails, and often, dangerously cold temperatures.

But the global COVID-19 pandemic might prove just too much for the annual winter event.

“We are still trying to work out if we can put on our race,” said race director Robert Pollhammer.

“At the moment, we’re waiting, we’re analyzing our options.”

The race is typically held in February and draws dozens of brave and hardy athletes to Yukon from around the world, eager to attempt the self-proclaimed “world’s coldest and toughest ultra.”

This winter’s event is tentatively scheduled to begin in Whitehorse on Feb. 7, 2021, and Pollhammer says lots of people have already signed up.

But he says it’s unlikely to happen if the current travel restrictions are still in place.

“I did ask the people who had signed up or are planning on signing up, how they think about the two weeks of required self-isolation upon arrival in the Yukon. And not surprisingly, most people said that that would mean they cannot do the race,” Pollhammer said.  

“Actually, I was surprised that there were, I think, about 17 people who said they would actually be willing to self-isolate.”



a man standing in front of a television: 'At the moment, we're waiting, we're analyzing our options,' said race director Robert Pollhammer, seen here speaking to competitors ahead of the 2020 race.


© Steve Silva/CBC
‘At the moment, we’re waiting, we’re analyzing our options,’ said race director Robert Pollhammer, seen here speaking to competitors ahead of the 2020 race.

Pollhammer — who’s based in Germany — said right now he’s still going ahead with organizing the event, and drawing up tentative operational plans based on the current COVID-19 restrictions.

Meanwhile, organizers of Yukon’s other high-profile winter event — the Yukon Quest sled dog race — decided more than a week ago to can that event for this winter. 

Pollhammer figures he should decide by next month whether or not to follow suit.

“Yukon needs to do what is good for the Yukon, and I just hope that because of the strict measures, it also means that at some point measures are going to be relaxing just like here in Europe and that we can actually have a race,” he said.

“And if not, well, it’s not the end of the world. We’ll just take a break for one year and hopefully then come back the year after.” 

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