Saturated spirits: 25th Svalbard Skimaraton marred by rainstorm, but participants find the silver linings

Kari Jasinski said she wasn’t able to train because she’s been sick the past four weeks and the weather put a damper on participating in her first Svalbard Skimaraton. But even though she registered for the competitive class, ultimately the experience is about more than how fast she finishes or even the race itself.


Participants in the Svalbard Skimaraton stay warm and dry in a lavvo tent before the start of this year’a race. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

“These conditions are a bit disappointing,” she said while clustering with many others inside two large warming tents shortly before the race Saturday morning. But during the previous couple of days “we did the huskies and the ice caves, so that was nice.”

A record 933 people participated in the 25th annual race, which has long been Svalbard’s largest single-day event. They got a warm welcome of sorts – too warm – since temperatures a few degrees above zero brought rain and strong winds that turned the trail into mush, and left those standing outside soaked. But for Jasinski and most racers, the experience was largely about the novelty of the mountains, the polar bear guards on snowmobiles, and the activities surrounding the race.

The “no-sweat” attitude was even prevalent among the top men’s and women’s finishers – both of whom were participating in the race for the first time.

“This is a vacation for us,” said Emil Iversen, a three-time World Cup winner participating in his first marathon-length race, who despite doing little training achieved a dominant win in 2:10:33, nearly 20 minutes ahead of the second-place finisher.

Even the lousy conditions had a silver lining, Iversen said.

“It was a really, really hard fight, but for me it’s really great training,” he said.


Ragnhild Haga, the fastest woman to finish this year’s Svalbard Skimaraton, drapes a medal over a youth completing a short race course during a ski festival Sunday outside Svalbardhallen. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

Iversen joined Ragnhild Haga – who finished first among women with a time of 2:32:42, four minutes ahead of the second-place finisher, to present medals to about 100 Longyearbyen youths taking part in an annual ski festival Sunday on the football pitch outside Svalbardhallen.

“It was one of the most challenging I’ve ever done,” Haga said about the ski marathon. But “it makes it more memorable.”