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135 Miles Over Snow: The Challenge Of ‘Arrowhead’ Ultra

Among the toughest winter endurance events, the Arrowhead 135 pits competitors against a namesake 135-mile course in northern Minnesota. This year marked the 13th running of the bike/ski/trek winter ultra. Correspondent Jason Johnson was on the course to photograph and document the action.

Unprecedented Year

This year’s race, Jan. 30 – Feb. 1, was a record-breaker. While fewer than 50 percent of entrants finish the race on average, 80 percent completed the challenge this year. In addition, both men’s and women’s cycling categories saw record-breaking times. And this marked the first year for the “unsupported” category, in which food, water, and warm-up at indoor checkpoints was prohibited.

Starting Line

Racers gather in the predawn hours at Kelly Park Arena in International Falls, Minn., before the start of the race.

Biker Ready

Aaron Hagen poses before the start of the race. Hagen took part in the cycling category, which saw a new record with Ted Loosen’s time of 13 hours, 15 minutes.

Preparing The Sled

Brazilian competitor Cristiano Marcelino makes final preparations to his sled and gear moments before the start of the race.

Fat Pack

Race leaders on fat bikes rage on the initial miles of the course.

Danger Ahead

Bike participant Steve Sylvester at mile 16. Steve would later sustain five broken ribs in a fall around mile 75. He pushed on for another 25 miles before dropping out to be evacuated to the hospital.

Winning Skier

Two of 11 athletes in the ski division at mile 16. Carl Skustad and Dan Campbell. Skustad later finished in 1st place with a time of 32 hours, 32 minutes.

Three Disciplines

Athletes from three different disciplines, running, kick-sled, and bike, share a section of trail around mile 35.

First Checkpoint

Breanna Cornell and Robert Henderson nearing the first mandatory check-in at The Gateway Store, mile 36.7.

Gone Sledding

Randy Kottke gets off his feet briefly to slide down a hill around mile 34.


First-time competitor, Jeff Firkus, suiting back up to leave the first check-in at The Gateway Store, as Thomas Keene inspects his feet while refueling. Jeff later finished on foot in 46 hours, 1 minute for a 10th-place finish.

Geared Up

Jim Wilson checks out of The Gateway Store, suited up with all of his gear.


Svetlana Kovalchuk rides fast during the early miles of the race.

Running Through The Night

Two on-foot competitors approach mandatory check-in No. 2 at Melgeorge’s Resort on Elephant Lake, mile 77. The pair had been on the move for almost 24 hours straight.

The Easy Way

There’s still smiles while sledding down hills, despite having covered 87 grueling miles.

No Hands

A Surly volunteer passes downtime at the mile 110 check-in. Surly has hosted this checkpoint for years.


Ray Sanchez, one of 48 competitors in this year’s new “unsupported” category, melts snow for water at the Surly checkpoint. This fire was the most outside assistance he received during the 135-mile race.

The Finish

Washington ultramarathoner, Kyle Durand, celebrates his 8th-place finish 45 hours, 39 minutes after beginning.

Coveted Hardware

2017 Arrowhead 135 Finisher Awards.

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