Cooler runnings: UNIS students revive race of outrageous sleds as ‘unofficial’ event; could real thing return?


At first glance it looks like a collection of some slob’s shabby furniture held together with rope and scotch tape. But that’s impossible since it was built in 1974 and used in the bobsledding competition at the Olympics in Lillehammer.

The contraption also possesses such prowess it inspired a certain historic event to move up its event by two years since the loudspeaker announcement that “this is the first sled of the 2016 Winter Olympics” couldn’t have been uttered it wasn’t true. Despite resembling a pile of furnishings unglamorously tossed out of an evictee’s apartment, the sledge seemed primed for yet another gold-winning performance.


Participants push, pull and carry their sleds up a hillside to the starting line of Saturday’s unofficial sledding competition. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

But drama set in when a rebel recliner turned into a runaway, flipping over several times on its skis before doing a final faceplant in the snow. But since official Olympic ordinances omit such snafus, the remaining scraps of stuff were allowed to slide.

And slide sensationally it did in The Event Formerly Known As The “Take A Chance” Sledding Competition, staged last Saturday on a hillside near a Nybyen guesthouse where zombies from the Doomsday Vault were seen roaming back in 2009, at least if footage from a documentary* is to be believed. The sled retained its unbroken medal streak, with the feat having nothing to do with the fact there were only three competitors in this year’s main event.


Participants push, pull and carry their sled down a hillside to the finish line of Saturday’s unofficial sledding competition. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

The second contender, for instance, was a polar pirate ship with a far more ancient history, but turned out to have icebreaker capabilities – as in, able to break downward into a frozen surface.

“It’s built for water,” said one of the mateys who had to abandon the ship and pull it across the finish line.
The sledding competition was a featured part of Longyearbyen’s Solfestuka festival in March since the 1980s, but interest died out when the event was moved from Hjorthamn to Nybyen due to poor snow conditions and the last “official” event occurred three years ago.

Students at The University Centre in Svalbard revived it in “unofficial” form last year – limiting participation to students due to safety-related issues of staging a “public” event – attracting dozens of spectators and competitors in various events such as the solo butt-sled.



* “The Nightmare Of Noah,” shot in 2009 and promoted by filmmakers as “a video of exploration halfway between documentary and science fiction” focusing on a futuristic Noah who becomes unable to stand his confinement in the seed vault and emerges to find the world has apparently disappeared under ice and the zombie apocalypse is in full effect.