At the start line for what was to be a test of endurance and fortitude, a group of skiers and snowshoers were ready for the worst and hopeful for the best as they prepared to traverse the sub-Arctic wilderness during a 50-kilometre stint along ungroomed trails outside of Yellowknife.
It was the return of the popular Frostbite 50 event which drew a group of participants – not to race, but to test their mettle and enjoy the outdoors that lay beyond the cusp of civilization.
Megan Miskiman, the race director, said 95 participants registered for the event – six of those being snowshoers and the remainder on skis.
“We also had 47 volunteers, 12 safety riders and also, search and rescue were involved,” Miskiman said of the co-ordinated effort necessary for the day-long event that she and Mike Lee of the Multisport Club helped organize.
The course for the event, although well-marked, was along ungroomed snow machine trails that started at the Yellowknife Ski Club, went down to Yellowknife Bay, onward to Walsh Lake, Prosperous Lake, Hay Lake, then which took a 360-degree turn back to the Bay and the Ski Club to finish.
It was no walk in the park even for these seasoned outdoor enthusiasts.
Participants were given 10 hours to complete the distance at an average speed of 4.5 km/h. They had the option of doing the course alone or in a relay team of no more than five people.
While Frostbite 50 is deemed an event and not a race, Miskiman said the time for each participant is recorded and posted on the Frostbite 50 website. No prizes are awarded for the top finishers.
Miskiman said overall, the weather was very favorable and not too cold as it has been in other years.
“In 2020, it was -30 C and in past years it ranged from -20 C to -40 C and (Saturday) it was -8 C, and sunny and so warm but not snowing, no whiteout conditions. It was great,” she said.
Miskiman said because participants weren’t struggling against the weather as well as the long course, most who started out also crossed the finish line, with only three people calling it a day without completing the event.
“Nobody was injured, or we didn’t have to remove anyone if we thought it was unsafe for them to continue. We didn’t have to do that at all. I think the biggest challenge yesterday was them staying in it and forcing themselves to continue and get across the finish line.”
And those waiting at the finish line didn’t have to wait long. At the three hour and 56 minute mark, Moses Hernandez from Yellowknife came gliding back to the ski club in fine form.
“When we all saw him coming, we were all in complete disbelief,” Miskiman said.
“It was pretty wild. He crossed the finish line and we all said congratulations and asked how was it and he said it was great, conditions were great and then he just went for another ski and skied around some more. He disappeared and then 20 minutes later he came back and popped off his skis and went inside and hung out for a bit and that was that.”
“He did not even resemble what I would imagine someone looking like when they just returned from a 50 km ski in under four hours. He was barely even out of breath.”
Hernandez, who has participated 10 times in these events — first as the Rock and Ice Ultra, then the Frostbite45 and the current Frostbite 50 — said the conditions were the best he has ever seen.
“Normally Prosperous (Lake) is really bad. People call it the sugar bowl,” he said of the conditions that cause skiers to sink down into the snow. “It was packed down on the lakes though, which allowed me to go fast.”
“I was using skate skis which are faster than the classic skis. The conditions were preferential for people skate skiing.”
Hernandez said he enjoys being active and skis consistently about three or four times a week and that he considered the event to be part of his ongoing training for an ultramarathon run in August.
Last year, Hernandez came in third in the event.
He said he was appreciative of the volunteers who organize such events.
“It’s part of a good skiing community and culture and that is the reason why I get out there. I don’t think I would be doing this on my own.”
“We have a great ski community and club and multisport. I want to acknowledge all the time and effort that all these people put in.”