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A guide to the Montane Lapland Arctic Ultra

The Montane Lapland Arctic Ultra (MLAU) is a brand new event for 2022. With the inaugural race in sight, we take a closer look at some of the key things you can expect from this thrilling new arctic ultra exploring one of Europe’s last great wildernesses.

Brainchild of Robert Pollhamer, founder of the notoriously challenging Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra (MYAU), the MLAU is a thrilling new experience in Swedish Lapland, for ultra runners looking to test their limits in extremely cold climates. Setting off from Överkalix, participants will head north deep into the Swedish wilderness on a non-stop ultra of varying lengths. With 2 races to track, either a 185km loop route or an additional loop that takes the total distance to 500km, there is lots of action to keep up with. In between awaits an extraordinary winter wonderland.

Already hooked and hankering for more arctic ultra fun? Keep reading to learn about this new twist on a challenging cold climate adventure…

MLAU vs MYAU: What’s the difference?

Both arctic ultras take place in the Northern Hemisphere in some of the most remote and cold environments known to man. Despite the obvious geographical difference (each race taking place on different continents) the landscapes are, in many ways, surprisingly similar. These are places little touched by the modern world, punctuated by frozen lakes and forests, usually carpeted in snow.

Just like on the MYAU, participants will also choose to tackle the trail either by foot, skis or bike. What makes the MLAU especially exciting is the fact it offers a slightly ‘easier’ experience than the MYAU, opening the arctic race experience out to more eager hopefuls. Temperatures in the Yukon can plummet to an eye-wateringly chilling -50 degrees, making it mainly only suitable for athletes with plenty of cold expedition experience. Alternatively, temperatures in Swedish Lapland should not go below the -30 degrees mark. So whilst participants will still need to brave much colder conditions than usual ultra runs, the cold should be a little easier to handle here!

One of the other big lures for racers on this event is the opportunity to cross the Arctic Circle, a noteworthy line of latitude circling the north of earth. There will be a sign here for an obligatory ‘selfie’ to mark the occasion, as well as a checkpoint at a cabin in the woods - a chance for racers to grab some respite from the cold.

The Yukon offers a linear A to B route, but the Lapland has a few more twists and turns in store. Starting and finishing in the small town of Överkalix, participants head north and will need to have their wits about them to navigate the 2 marked loop routes we have created.” Robert Pollhammer, Founder of the Montane Lapland Arctic Ultra

Two racers at the Montane Lapland Arctic Ultra

The race origins

Although 2022 will be the first year of the MLAU, founder and German-based Robert Pollhammer has been thinking about organising an ultra run in Europe for well over a decade. It was the onset of the Covid-19 outbreak in 2020 that spurred him on to turn his dreams into a reality. With overseas travel effectively shut down overnight, the annual Yukon event was unable to go ahead and thoughts turned to developing something in Europe instead.

Whilst much of the world endured tough restrictions, Sweden took a different tack early on in the pandemic and hosting a winter event here seemed a real possibility. This combined with a useful connection in the country, Niclas Bentzer (a 430-mile finisher in the Yukon race) convinced Robert to head out to investigate for himself. After chatting to local authorities, local people and businesses, Robert honed in on a small town called Överkalix. Usually he looks for local dog sled trails to base a route on, but in this region of Sweden, it is local snowmobile tracks that the Montane Lapland Arctic Ultra largely follows. In between, there have been some new trails developed to help formulate 2 loops routes which participants will navigate.

A racer in the Swedish forest on the Montane Lapland Arctic Ultra

Unfortunately the event in 2021 was not able to go ahead due to the escalating Covid-19 situation at that time. Despite this, the stage is set for an exciting first edition of the MLAU this year. Having the support of the local communities has been invaluable to Robert and his team. Several community centres have agreed to provide checkpoints along the route to help refuel tired, hungry participants. In addition to this, local schools have been creating some fantastic signs for the trail. It is hoped the event will come back year-on-year (with plans in place to make the trail permanently marked, enabling tourists to come and enjoy it too). Ultimately Robert hopes to help bring some excitement to the previously small town of Överkalix and shine a light on some of the special places found in Sweden.

It’s important to have some sort of connection to set an event of this nature up, Niclas had a good understanding of the region and terrain. It made sense to base this arctic ultra here, rather than other Scandinavian areas that surround it.” 

Navigating a spellbinding natural wonderland

Outdoor enthusiasts will not be disappointed by the unique landscapes of Sweden’s Lapland region. Based in the far north of the country, close to the border of Finland, here nature takes centre stage. Regarded as one of the ‘last great wildernesses of Europe’, many of the pristine old-growth forests are protected. Not only does this preserve the landscapes for future generations, it helps keep the region feeling relatively unspoilt.

The MLAU takes place in late Swedish winter (known locally as gidádálvve, one of the region’s 8 defined seasons) a time when participants will still be likely to enjoy the landscapes looking like a bonafide winter wonderland. The winter scenery here really is breath taking (not least thanks to the cold temperatures), with heavily snow-laden trees a common sight at this time of year. The high probability of fresh snow is one of the reasons snowshoes are a mandatory kit item for those taking part.

If all that wasn’t enough to get you suitably excited…this is also the land of the stunning aurora borealis (a.k.a. the elusive northern lights). If the racers are lucky and the stars align, they’ll be treated to a spectacular light display in the sky. Surely there’s no better motivation to help them on their way?

Alongside a backdrop of winter beauty, Swedish Lapland is also home to lots of wildlife, including herds of reindeer and moose. In fact there are more moose found here than any other place on the planet!

Northern lights on the Montane Lapland Arctic Ultra

Fika and Swedish hospitality

Savouring food and regular breaks are an important part of Swedish culture and the Montane Lapland Arctic Ultra will be aiming to make this a part of the experience. One aspect we suspect may become somewhat of a race tradition will be Fika (pronounced fee-ka). This is a Swedish concept that involves making time to break for a coffee and enjoy this with friends or family.

Along the trail will be several Folketshus (community centres) acting as checkpoints. These will be hosted by local people and we’re sure they’ll be serving up the best Swedish hospitality they can! Another noteworthy checkpoint racers can be sure of a tasty refuel will be Jockfall, a restaurant by a waterfall. As the Swedish Lapland is so abundant in moose and reindeer, they form a large basis of the food found on the menu here, which includes plenty of hearty stews (and variations of these for vegetarians too!).

The first checkpoint both routes will encounter is at an elevation point called Laxforsberget, which provides a lovely view across the Swedish landscapes. This will be a small cabin in the woods and is a remote checkpoint - with no electricity and no road access. Just a simple space in the wild.

Follow the inaugural MLAU action

The first official Montane Lapland Arctic Ultra kicks off on the 06 March, 2022. Head to the dedicated MLAU event hub to discover more about the event, including the opportunity to track participants taking part. Ones to watch include MYAU 2022 finisher Kevin Leahy, as well as Montane athlete Katy Parrott who will be taking part in her first ever arctic ultra run. Keep your eyes peeled for race updates as the event unfolds to hear how they get on…

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