Jasper winter pentathlon – a soloist’s account

A ‘winter pentathlon’ you say with a big question mark?

Just think: Triathlon + two extra legs + snow and ice = the Jasper winter pentathlon.

Like the Polar Bear Dip this event was also part of the Jasper in January festival and the fourth annual pentathlon had a solid turnout of 22 teams. Of the 22 teams there were 6 of us who took the dive into the challenge of a solo conquest.

The weather was absolutely beautiful for some physical suffering. Blue skies galore and a pleasant (by Canadian standards) high of -1.

Angry birds team!
Angry birds team!

So first up for the day, what I thought would be the easiest of all legs – a 7km mountain bike. When the cap gun fired I started off strong but a decent hill combined with a severe lack of riding had me gasping for air like a fish out of water and fingers going numb like…arrr the polar bear dip…

Next up was the 5km cross country ski around the edge of the lake. For the second time ever on cross country skis I did pretty well. Passed a couple of people and had some others zoooommmm past me like they had an invisible jet pack strapped on. Clearly Canadians. Even though these zoooommmmers were just doing the one leg they were still flying at double my pace.

So sitting somewhere around the middle of the pack it was time to don some snowshoes and go for a 2.5km run around the lake again – this inevitably meant run – walk – run – walk – run – walk – run. I’d have to say this was the toughest leg. The big clumsy snowshoes (which you lock your boots into) are not made for running and everyone running this leg had their work cut out for them.

Snowshoeing fun

Back at transition it was time for ice skates! Little did I know the time I was about to lose on the ice…

So yeah I’ve skated a few times and thought I was decent until…de de derrr…meet Canadian ice skaters in a race! For starters we had to skate 7km! A mission in itself that took me 43 minutes – meanwhile the fastest did it in 21 minutes. Crazy stuff!

So leaving me in dead last after a mediocre skate I began the final leg with gusto. A 4km trail run through hardened snow. In a way like running through wet sand but with much greater risk for ankle injury. One section I walked – just too precarious.

With only a few hundred metres left I caught and passed the team in front and made it back to the finish to a roaring reception after 2 hours 42 min total race time. It really was fantastic hearing everyone’s support. Great team spirit Jasper and a great event! Thank you.

Look its me about to be overlapped


A happy finisher :)
A happy finisher 🙂

Polar Bear Dip

Clearly I’m a sucker for the cold stuff, and what better way to top sleeping in an igloo than jumping into a frozen lake in the middle of winter in Canada when the air temperature is -8 degrees.

Funnily enough this was actually an organised event part of the Jasper in January festival all in aid of raising money for Canadian Diabetes…this was the fourth annual Polar Bear Dip at Patricia Lake, Jasper.

I definitely had a few butterflies on the drive to the lake. My housemate Jackie came down to watch us lunatics jump into icy water and captured awesome shots of my jump. Have a look at how the sequence of events unfolded….with particular notice to my facial expressions. Priceless!


Calm and collected
Calm and collected on the start line
Running up its all about the face of concentration
Running up its all about the face of concentration
Brace yourself for hypothermic temperature
Brace yourself for hypothermic temperatures
Just one more step
C’mon just a bit higher
Mission accomplished
Mission accomplished

Woah, what a buzz. The water took your breath away alright, then straight out.

Heaps of people came down to witness this monumental occasion and dozens of jumpers had already taken their leap of faith before I did.

The most scary part was not being able to feel my frozen feet for a good 5-10 minutes. In past years the ice around the hole was dry and solid, but this year it was all slushy, because of a few warmer than average days leading up to the Dip.

So needless to say standing in freezing water for several minutes isn’t recommended – but shoes most definitely are. Good thing they had a heated tent post jump.

What a cool experience for a winters day hey!

Driving dilemmas

What’s it’s like learning to drive on the other side of the road?

Very very strange for the first week!

At first the weirdest thing wasn’t driving on the right (as you would expect), but sitting on the left side of the car and changing gears with your right hand! I found myself unintentionally drifting towards the right – so that I was over the right wheel path and gear changes were so slow.

Rubber floor mats are perfect for the snow melting off your boots
Same layout but different side

I also had pedestrians wildly waving at me when I started down a one way street in the wrong direction.

And other times I went to turn into the left lane from a T intersection, but realised my mistake in time…the oncoming cars are a good indicator.

After a month as a Canadian driver I thought I had got the hang of things…until today!!! Donny and I had just explored this amazing ice canyon when I got bogged…then locked the keys in the car with the engine running.  It was an hours walk back to a phone where we called a tow truck. What a day.

Other quirky Canadian driving phenomena are:

No roundabouts – instead they use 4 way stop intersections (so slow, but cheaper to build I guess)
Turning right at a red light is legal
Cars always stop and give way to pedestrians (something us Aussies never do)
It’s law to have your headlights on at all times

Snow drifts – where snow blows across the road in fascinating ripples

Before you can drive you need to scrape/brush the ice/snow off the glass

Sometimes its just snow but here it’s ice

And there’s these big snow ploughs that hoot along

Snow plough chasing me
Snow plough chasing me

Sleeping in an igloo

Some would say crazy, others stupid but I say why not? Yes it was cold and I had a terrible sleep but now I’ve slept in an ice box and lived to tell the tale.

It was a little chilly outside, a crisp -16 (it was in the -20’s the night before). I never found out what the reading was inside but I’ll put it this way… even dressed like I was going skiing and in a double sleeping bag it was on the colder side of comfortable, “sleepable” though. I felt as if I was a caterpillar in a cocoon with the sleeping bag tightened around me.

I didn't have far to run back to the hostel in the morning
I didn’t have far to run back to the hostel in the morning

To be specific this is a quinzhee rather than an igloo. A quinzhee is built by hollowing out a pile of hardened snow whereas an igloo is made by cutting and assembling blocks. Quinzhee’s are more of a temporary shelter that might be used in survival situations and igloos are more permanent yet take more time and energy to build. This one was already built when I arrived, in the near future I plan on taking a shot at building an igloo!

Fortunately no bears, cougars or wolves had taken a fancy to my bed
Fortunately no bears, cougars or wolves had taken a fancy to my bed