A picture worth a thousand wards: Ski marathon set to top 1,000 racers for first time; start featured live online


Signs of the times: This year’s Svalbard Skimaraton is expected to surpass 1,000 racers for the first time ever, all of whom will have to walk an extra 200 to 300 meters into the valley where the start line is due to poor snow/ice conditions closer to the road. But non-participants who don’t feel like making the trek can watch it all happen live from the comfort of their laptops or phones. 

This year’s race on Saturday, which has become Svalbard’s biggest single-day event, has attracted participants from at least 18 countries, according to Svalbard Turn, the organization hosting the race. When online registration closed on Thursday, a record 999 participants had signed up for the race.

“This means that the first one who signs up when we open the registration office at Svalbardhallen (on Friday) afternoon will be the thousandth to sign up,” Nina Lines, Svalbard Turn’s general manager, told Svalbardposten.

As in recent years, the event will also feature a number of notorious competitive racers, including Simen Hegstad Krüger, who won two gold medals and a silver medal during the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, earlier this year. Also in line with past years, Krüger will be among the celebrity skiers handing out medals and spending time with youths during Children’s Ski Festival on Sunday on the football pitch outside Svalbardhallen.

The ski marathon has generally set new registration levels every year since organizers abandoned a limit on participants that existed during the early years of the race. The 25th annual race last year attracted a record 933 participants, although they were subject to less than celebratory conditions due to above-zero temperatures and rain that turned the trail to mush.

This year’s race is taking place after another warm winter and relatively little snow, so the starting line is being moved further into the valley beneath Mine 6 due to ice near the road. Race officials are also covering the trail itself with snow to compensate the scant natural cover.

The half-marathon and non-competitive full marathon participants are scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m., while the competitive full marathon is scheduled to start at 10 a.m.

Wannabe spectators unable or unwilling to be at the starting line in person can follow what’s happening there via a live panoramic webcam at http://lns-spitsbergen.kystnor.no.