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Tekst: Jan Simmen
10 years of ice-cold adventures
Signaldalen, very close to the Arctic Sea, Norway.
The dogs are howling, eager to run. The wind is blowing cold, but the mind is set on the mountain that rises steep ahead. I step off the break and the powers of my five dogs are unleashed in a split second. The word “adventure” is now reality to me. The next four days will change me and the other competitors forever. There is no way back now! I don’t know why. Maybe it is because of the cold air, or the beauty of the mountain, but suddenly my brain catches a long forgotten sen-tence from the deepest parts of my mind: “We few, we happy few”.
Shakespeare’s famous words keep rushing through my mind, again and again while we climb 780 vertical meters up to the first check-point. Never had the poet’s words been truer. 6000 had applied this year, but only 16 of us had the luck to be chosen. “We happy few…” But we were not the first to do this climb, or to be chosen to parti-cipate in this race. In 1997 the first race took place, with the slight difference that it started where all the other Fjällräven POLAR races had ended - in Jukkasjärvi, in the very north of Sweden. Already the year after, the teams in Fjällräven POLAR started their adventure in Signaldalen, Norway, ending the race in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, after 300 km of ice cold and breathtaking adventure.
The seed was planted in 1994. That year Kenth Fjellborg followed his own dream to Alaska and participated in the famous Iditarod sled dog competition. Iditarod is to the mushers what Mt. Everest is to the climbers. After 1 800 km Kenth Fjellborg was honoured with the title Second Best Rookie of the Year. Not that titles matter so much to Kenth, but his experience in that race would the year after be the very spark that inflamed an idea that have mattered a great deal for many people since. Very little could Kenth Fjellborg at that time know that his own adventure would play such a big part of changing the lives of so many others.
Planning an adventure for life
The idea of a sled dog race started when Fjällräven’s founder, Åke Nordin, and Kenth Fjellborg met. Kenth wanted to give Åke an idea of what mushing was all about. A few months later it was decided that the first Fjällräven POLAR would take place. But not like the Iditarod for professional mushers, but for everyday people. They star-ted advertising their idea and the result took them by surprise. Thousands wanted to participate. It became obvious that many peo-ple that live a normal and calm life in the cities of Europe dream about adventures and challenges. Adventure is exactly what the par-ticipants of Fjällräven POLAR have been given through the years. The competitors have faced everything from icy blizzards, 35 degrees below zero, exhausting stages, breathtaking views and beautiful untouched nature.
From the very beginning Fjällräven POLAR was a unique race. Few people get the opportunity to test their limits in surroundings most will never get the chance to experience. The participants travel in teams, adding another difficult perspective. It has never been easy to compete in teams in an environment where you are tired, cold and sometimes very hungry. The race is also free for every participant. They don’t have to pay anything and are free to keep most of the gear. Only one thing is asked of them - to tell Fjällräven what they think of the gear used in the race. Testing the garments in the toughest surroundings possible is the best way to develop the gear. For Fjällräven this is a perfect opportunity to test new designs, introduce new ideas and to find out if everything lives up to the high standards of the company.
Changed for life
The extreme conditions during the race will most surely change the people participating. To endure the cold, to feel hunger while run-ning fast in deep snow alongside the sled, to find the strength after a few hours of rest or to get out of a warm sleeping bag when it is 35 degrees below zero are things most people didn’t know that they could cope with. In 2002 a young girl put her name on the Fjällräven web page, hoping that she would win a jacket. She was lucky. She was picked out to participate in the race. Only problem was that she was afraid of dogs, she had never been in any extreme situations before and on top of that, she was a vegetarian. The freeze-dried food like beef stroga-noff or chili con carne, given as meals to the participants could hard-ly be described as vegetarian food. When the girl crossed the finish line in Jukkasjärvi she had finished the race first. She was no longer afraid of dogs and she had no problem eating meet afterwards.
The future looks as bright as snow
The future of the race looks bright. A few changes are always bound to happen when planning a big race like this. The logistics alone are enormous. Since 1998 the race has been a match between teams of countries, always in pairs of one woman and one man. In the future the battle between country-team against country-team will change. Some things will never change, however. The price ceremony will be held in the famous ICEHOTEL in Jukkasjärvi - and the party after-wards will always be a very warm one...