In 2022, the Swedish wilderness welcomed intrepid arctic adventurers for the first ever Montane Lapland Arctic Ultra race (MLAU). Following a successful inaugural event, the MLAU returned again to put racers through their paces on freezing cold, snowy trails in one of Europe’s last great wilderness.
Despite an unusually mild Swedish winter in the build up to the MLAU, in true Arctic fashion, things quickly turned decidedly chillier as the race progressed. In fact, lows of a chilling -35 degrees celsius were recorded one night. This meant it was a significantly colder race than its previous year.
It is these extremely low temperatures and the quickly changing conditions that make the Montane Lapland Arctic Ultra a challenging race. Just ask last year's racer Katy Parrott, who took part and shares what a day on the Lapland trail actually looks like. You can also read our dedicated story behind to learn more about the race origins and routes.
On hand to help guide us through this year's 2023 event was Montane Event and Athlete Lead Hannah Foster. Hannah joined the MLAU team and racers on the ground in Swedish Lapland. Keep reading to hear her race highlights and how the action unfolded…
“Arctic Sweden is such a vast, beautiful wilderness. I’ve been working on the MLAU from the UK so knew a lot about the race, but actually being up here on the ground really brings home to me the sheer remoteness of this race.
For the athletes, it’s a massive head game to keep pushing through the cold wilderness. They are aided by the brilliant team of race medics and volunteers, who I have to say have been so dedicated to the athletes wellbeing at every bitterly cold checkpoint.” Hannah Foster - Marketing lead - Athletes and Events
2023 race winners
For those taking part, there are 2 routes to choose from, a ‘shorter’ 185km loop, or a lengthier 500km loop. Everyone sets off from Jockfall at the same time and has the choice to compete either by foot, ski or fat bike.
Towing the start line this year was 16 competitors from across the globe. Many of these racers were recompeting (and hoping to finish) after taking part last year, or using the race in preparation for the Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra - an even more challenging affiliated arctic race, based over in North Western Canada.
One of the tougher race conditions this year involved tackling the bright conditions on the trail. One racer (Maximo) had painful eyes and suspected snow blindness. Thankfully, he has had a full medical check over and we're pleased to say hus eyes have recovered and he is feeling much better. A lesson in just how deceiving (and dangerous) the Swedish sun can be!
This year, finishing first on the 185km race was Italian Sergio Minoggio who completed the loop in 2 days 9 hours 5 mins. Alex Davydov took 2nd place and coming in 3rd was female competitor Alla Bova, who crossed the finish line appropriately on International Women’s Day - nice one, Alla!
“It is my first time in the snow in Arctic Sweden. Although I have experience in other snowy landscapes in Europe such as the Alps, this has been really different. So cold and very flat. The temperatures dropped so low at night and wow, that was hard.” Sergio Minoggio, 1st place finisher on the 185km route
As for the 500km race, first place on foot went to German Stefan Zahlten who completed this route in 5d 18h 20m. Australian Paul was the next to cross the 500km finish line with a total moving time of 6d 04h 09m.
“Staying sane on this race is a challenge when you’re out on the trail for 20+ hours pulling a pulk for over 6 days. We all have our little ways. I start some days singing show tunes having a great time and, several hours later, I would be yelling at trees and people that weren’t really there, threatening to sell my pulk on ebay at the next checkpoint. You just have to take each day one at a time.” Paul, 3rd place finisher on the 500km route
Survival and etiquette on the trail
Before setting off into the Swedish wilderness, competitors receive a detailed briefing on what to expect, including essential survival training for the arctic conditions. They are also trained on how to navigate this unique natural landscape responsibly. All racers must carry all the kit they need to survive out on the arctic trail.
A ‘leave no trace’ policy is integral to the race’s ethos and keeping the trails clear is a requirement of participants. That means things like going to the toilet from the trail and labelling all competitors' food with their race numbers, so that it can be easily identified and cleaned up.
There is also a strict rule to not chop any trees down to create fires. Racers can only do so in life threatening situations, ensuring the natural landscape remains how it was found - unspoiled and untouched.
“On the trail, your sleigh or pulk is your partner; don’t wander off without it. It is the key to your warmth and food…and ultimate survival” Robert Pollhammer, MLAU Race Founder and Director
Refuelling at checkpoints
Dotted along both race routes are a number of checkpoints - a chance for competitors to take a break, warm up by a fire and refuel. With 8 medics on hand, at each checkpoint, racers receive a medical check over and any urgent assistance where required.
Most checkpoints are completely off road and accessing these (if not a racer) is a challenge, made only possible thanks to local ski-doo guides. The first checkpoint for both race loops is Laxforsberget, a wooden hut considered by many on the race to be the most beautiful. Thanks to its elevated position, it provides great views out over the valley. This year racers experienced the stunning Northern Lights overhead here.
Another checkpoint highlight of the race is Polar Cabin 1, surrounded by trees and nothing else. The sense of isolation here really echoes the remoteness of the race. Whilst it may be basic, it is warm - all that racers need at this point!
Locally sourced moose or reindeer stew is also usually found waiting to greet hungry competitors at checkpoints. For those curious about what else racers eat en route, Jockfall, is another stand-out event location (our official base before the race starts) and is famous for its salmon - caught from the river which it is located beside.
Our Arctic ultras are over for another year, but you can get your fill of more snowy tests of endurance in our next event which takes place over in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA.
We will be supporting the time-honoured Grand Traverse Ski race from Crested Butte to Aspen. Get up to speed with our dedicated story behind the Grand Traverse - your chance to discover more about this inspiring and challenging high altitude ski race.