In 2016 we participated in the Arctic Circle Race – they say it is the toughest cross-country ski race in the world. It is definitely something and it is ran entirely by volunteers.
This race is held every year in Greenland, starting in the small fishing town of Sisimiut. The only way to get there in the winter is either by boat or plane. On ACRs website you can buy a package including the entry, accommodation and flights. That’s exactly what we did.
One can choose between two distances: 100km or 160km, completed in three stages over three days. As we are relatively new to long-distance skiing and do not really own a decent pair of skis, we decided to enroll in the shorter distance.
Once we got to Sisimiut thanks to Air Greenland, we were taken to a small student housing sort of accommodation where we would spend the next couple of days during training. In the following days we checked out the town and trained on the ski tracks opened for us. Kristians and I also ascended the highest peak looming over Sisimiut. The days were filled with wrooming snowmobiles and nights with howling sledgedogs.
On the third morning the race finally started: the whole town had gathered onto the field next to the community center to send us off. Because we would be spending the next two nights in a tent in the backcountry, our luggage was to be delivered by snowmobiles.
As a part of the first lap around the starting area, the competitors need to descend a big hill right in front of all the viewers – as most cross-country skiers and enthusiasts know, descending hills on these thin skis is terrifying and requires proper training and balance. For these reasons the hill is a big crowd pleaser – many a laughs are had when skiers fall here.
The first stage led us 33km out into the desolate backcountry. As we quickly found out it is not only the distance and location that makes this race so brutal – it is also the relentless hills. But on top of every insane climb there were views to either the frozen ocean or the endless hills of Greenland. The depots, scattered about every 7-10 kilometers, kept our spirits high as the volunteers cheered and nourished us with snacks and hot beverages.
Finishing the first day at the communal tent area was such a great feeling. We had a quick dinner, waxed our skis for the next day and dropped dead in our tents, huddling together in our massive sleeping bags.
Kristians ended the first day with a position in top 20.
A stage of another 33 kilometers awaited us – the route took a big loop around the area, never holding back on the ascents and descents. The weather started off as being very windy towards the morning but settled by noon. The volunteers always kept the mood high and chatting up strangers en route made the race easier to endure. I made it a thing of pride to ski up every slope – many decided to take their skis off for the uphills.
I discovered that by the end of this day I was fully confident taking all downhills with full speed.
Kristians of course ended way earlier than me and was already enjoying dinner by the time I got back to camp. We ate, waxed skis and also took advantage of the free massage offered to all participants. And then we slept.
The last stage would wind back to the town on nearly the same route as on day 1. It seemed, however, to take ages to move at all. Maybe it was the insane wind of the morning, maybe the exhaustion of the previous days or maybe simply the hope for a shower – who knows?
It was an incredible feeling to finish – the last strip of the track was lined by all the locals and volunteers, cheering. I tried to ski fast but my skis were just horrible (do get good skis if you ever plan to participate!) – it felt like skiing on sand! But I did finish – with tears in my eyes – and that is all that matters. We love to challenge ourselves – often in the most absurd ways.
Kristians finished 16th overall, me 54th overall.