UNBC Celebrates 25 Years of a Uniquely Northern Event
February 7, 2012
What began as an informal get-together of about 30 hardy northerners in the run-up to the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary has become an annual tradition for the University of Northern British Columbia. The 25th annual Ice Man competition, taking place on Sunday February 12, now attracts well over 600 participants and is a yearly rite for the UNBC students, faculty, and staff who participate and make up many of the event’s 200-plus volunteers and organizers.
“The first Ice Man was a casual event to celebrate the Olympic Torch passing through the area and—at the time—all the participants were men,” says UNBC Forestry professor Kathy Lewis, who served as the contest’s race director for 14 years. Dr. Lewis has also won the contest “about eight times” by her estimation and currently coordinates the event’s skating portion as president of the Prince George Ice Oval Society. “It has become a tradition for the UNBC community, which celebrates the northern lifestyle and our particular brand of athleticism.”
The event begins at Caledonia Nordic Ski Centre on Otway Road with an 8 kilometer cross country ski event followed by a 10 kilometer run to the Prince George Ice Oval. Participants then complete a five kilometer skate (12 laps around the Oval), before proceeding on a five kilometer run to the Aquatic Centre for an 800 meter swim (16 lengths). Athletes can either compete as a team or individually and they must be at least 10 years old to participate with a group and 16 to enter solo.
Weather-wise, Dr. Lewis says it’s anything goes until -20, when the risk of frost-bite and other extreme cold-related ailments becomes too great. The event was only cancelled in 1996 when temperatures plummeted to -28. There were also a couple of years the skating portion had to be held in the Kin Centre due to melting of the oval’s ice surface.
UNBC Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Management professor and six-time Ice Man Race Director Pat Maher says the event keeps getting bigger and, the participants, better. “We expect more than six hundred entrants again this year, about 60% of whom will be UNBC faculty, staff, and students,“ says Dr. Maher. “The level of competition has also gone way up. We’ve had former Olympian and UNBC grad Tuppy Hoehn competing in previous years as well as Jacqui Benson, a grad who currently competes at a very high level.”
One veteran solo entrant looking towards this year’s event with more nervousness than usual is UNBC PhD student and instructor in Environmental Planning, Ian Picketts. “Each year, I challenge my students to put a team together,” says Picketts. “If they beat me, I’ll wear a suit for the rest of the year. This year they’ve actually accepted the challenge for the first time, so I’m a little concerned. They’ll have an increasing advantage for each successive leg of the event so that’s going to really motivate me to push hard. I hate wearing suits!”
“None of this would be possible without the participation and support of the UNBC community and the people of northern BC. Local sponsors really get on board with the funding,” says Dr. Maher. “What are we looking for next year? We always want more participants, more volunteers, and—next year, especially—we are looking for new members for the organizational committee. After six years, I’m looking to give someone new a chance to get involved with this fun and uniquely northern event.”
Cut-off for the February 12 event is February 8. For further information, visit www.pgiceman.ca.
Kathy Lewis, Forestry Professor, UNBC - 250.960.6659