March 5th, 2023 we started the 2nd edition of the Montane Lapland Arctic Ultra. After last year’s race I was wondering if I should change some of the rules regarding mandatory kit as temperatures only went down to about -15 degrees Celsius. I am glad I did not because this time the weather in Swedish Lapland threw everything at us it has to offer. We got temperatures down to – 35 degrees Celsius, plenty of sunshine and towards the end, even a snow storm.
Our athletes had a wonderful time in Jockfall in the days leading up to the start – where, once again, our hosts Robin, Ann-Sofi and Hans took great care of us. Then we all went down to our start line right at the Grand Arctic Resort and had our countdown at 09:35 am.
Copyright: Swedish Lapland
Recent snowfall made for slightly softer trails than we had hoped for but all athletes made good progress anyway. Getting up to our beautiful Laxforsberget checkpoint was the first main obstacle for all. “It’s not a mountain. It’s more a big hill”, is what I told everyone in the briefing. And it’s the truth! However, after a long day on fairly soft trails and with a heavy load, that hill can be really tough. Everybody made it up in good spirits and of course seeing the stars and the northern lights from this higher elevation is a thing that’s hard to forget. Unfortunately, the tougher trail conditions were too much for Mike Kraft’s knee and he was not able to continue further. Since they are a team and because his wife Maren also was not feeling 100%, she quit, too. Of course they were sad not to be able to see more of the race but Mike and Maren were really positive about the entire experience and happy to have tried it.
Arrival at Laxforsberget Checkpoint, Copyright: Swedish Lapland
Cristiana Peretto from Italy got quite a bit further but also had to scratch before reaching Jockfall checkpoint. It was her first non-stop race in a cold environment like this and she had a hard time keeping up with her team partner Sergio. All others – both 185 and 500 km athletes – were able to continue, reaching Jockfall and then Polar Circle Cabin #1 checkpoint. Here UK athlete Ben Clayton-Jolly had to call it a day – for the same reason as Mike Kraft. Ben’s knee was hurting too much and pushing too hard with a bad knee is never a good idea. So, Ben, who had already finished the 185 km in 2022, made the right decision not to risk further damage.
Sergio Minoggio (Italy) was our first finisher in the 185 km distance. Rank 2 went to Alexander Davydov (Germany) and rank 3 was won by Alla Bova (USA), who just a few weeks before also finished the Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra 100 mile race in Canada. Up next was Ruth Newton (UK), our only athlete on skis. Yes, to all Swedes, you heard right … the “only” athlete on skis! Ruth did really well and even though the trails are not always easy for ski athletes, she enjoyed the experience. The last athlete in this distance to reach the Överkalix finish line was Thomas Werner (Germany) who did the race with his two dogs, Ernie and Loki. Last winter Thomas already was with us and he could not finish. So, it was great to see him achieve his goal this time. Congratulations to all!
185 km race winner Sergio Minoggio, Copyright: Callum Jolliffe
Stefan Zahlten kept pushing hard all the way to the finish. Sometimes pushing hard can be very risky. Especially, when nights remain very cold and a fast pace and lack of sleep finally take their toll. However, in German’s case, it worked out. The gap had created between himself and Paul, remained. Thus, Stefan took first place overall and in the foot division. Roughly 9 hours after him, Paul Watkins also reached the finish line, placing 2nd.
Stefan Zahlten (Germany), winner 500 km race, Copyright: Swedish Lapland
Thanks to their speed, both of them avoided some really bad weather that hit us on the late afternoon of the 13th. Karl and Harriet were also kind of lucky because they arrived in Rikti-Dokkas Checkpoint as the heavy winds and snowfall started. And they wanted to have a good rest there anyway. For Maximo who was already on his final stretch to Överkalix and for James who was further behind, things would be more challenging. Both of them had a hard time finding the trail between markers and whenever they would step off it, they would be stuck in very deep snow. Maximo reported he even stepped into a hole of snow where here really struggled to get out. Our snowmobile guides Daniel Cedering and Robin Landin went out to help make the trails visible again. That made it a lot better for Maximo, James and eventually also Karl and Harriet. All of them were able to continue. Yes, snow was still soft – as it takes time for newly groomed trails to be solid – but at least they were not stuck. I would just like to emphasize that such over night trail breaking may not take place in every future MLAU and in all circumstances. When crew is not too tired, it’s not too dangerous and the logistics allow for it, grooming can be done at night. But most times it is more likely that athletes who are face with trails that disappear over night, will have to bivy until trail breaking can take place hopefully the next morning.
Maximo finished third and was of course very happy to reach Överkalix. Karl and Harriet came next and their finish was extra special because as they walked across the finish line, we saw the start of some really nice northern lights. James saw the same spectacle in the sky about 30 km further back. His plan was to not sleep and keep a steady pace to make it just in time. However, the fresh snow and wind drifts made that impossible for him. We kept in touch over night just to make sure he was safe and in the morning James decided to withdraw because it would have taken him until early afternoon to cover the remaining distance. Obviously, it’s frustrating to have to quit so close to the end but James told me that he really enjoyed the entire journey and that he got this far.
Thank you to all athletes who joined us this year. The entire MLAU team congratulates you!
Thank you to all crew members: Diane and Lucy from HQ in the UK, all volunteers who were involved in Sweden: Sam, Pat, Jonny, Alastair, Ali, Sarah, Alex, Amy, Callum, Madeline, Zoe and Hakan. Thank you to our guides Daniel, Henrik, Robin, Roland, Arnold, Niclas and Micael. Thank you to our wonderful checkpoints and checkpoint hosts at Jockfall, Grand Arctic Resort Överkalix, Lansjärv, Leipojärvi and Nattavaara. Thank you to all our sponsors and partners, our title sponsor Montane, Kahtoola, SOTO, Jockfall, Överkalix Kommun, Gällivare Kommun, Swedish Lapland, Heart of Lapland, Fjällcom, Sveaskog, Peter Mild Design, Acapulka, ICA, Reko, Cumulus and Racelite. Thank you Rimfrost Adventures for hosting our official training course. Thank you to our media guests Alexander Davydov (FAZ), Ted Logart (Swedish Lapland/Photography) and Jonne Tiili (The Unlazy Way).
Thank you to all the region’s snowmobile clubs for the hard work putting in and maintaining the trails that allow us and many others to have fun out there!
Last but not least, thank you Sweden for being such a great country to visit and thank you all those who have followed the MLAU 2023. We can’t wait to be back!