Last year at this time, tough-talking Manitobans who love to get outdoors were griping about mild weather and the absence of snow. This year, many of those same people are trying to book flights to Puerto Vallarta.
Thanks to actual snow and a sustained deep freeze, we actually have a winter this year. And those conditions have arrived just in time to prepare for a pair of races that celebrate genuine winter weather.
Here's what's planned for Winnipeg over the coming weeks:
Ice Donkey Winter Adventure
Sunday, Feb. 10
The goods: A five-kilometre obstacle course.
Location: The former Southwood Golf Course grounds at the University of Manitoba's Fort Garry campus.
What's up: Now in its fourth year, Ice Donkey has dropped its earlier multi-sport format in favour of an obstacle-course run. The change was made to open up the Winnipeg race to more participants.
"People loved the old format, but you needed all this equipment. As long as you can run, you can do this one," said Jan Cmela, one of the organizers with Swamp Donkey Adventure Racing, which runs a total of four events throughout the year: Ice Donkey, Pain In The Assiniboine (June 23), the Dirty Donkey Mud Run (Aug. 17) and The Swamp Donkey multi-sport race (Sept. 21).
Unlike some of the other events, There's only one tier of competition at Ice Donkey, although the large number of entries means the race is divided up into several heats. The idea is to encourage participation from anyone, not just superathletes.
"Our goal is to get people off the couch and outside, regardless of the weather," Cmela said. "The obstacles are meant to bring back the memories of when you were a kid and played outside in the winter."
Duration: An average of 45 minutes per competitor, though the very fit may finish in far less time.
Participants: Approximately 300 in 2012. Somewhere between 400 and 500 are expected this year.
Registration deadline: Feb. 8
Entry fee: $65 plus GST
More info: www.swampdonkeyar.com
Saturday, Feb. 16
The goods: A 130-kilometre endurance race for cyclists and runners.
Route: St. Malo to The Forks in Winnipeg, passing through St. Pierre-Jolys, Otterburne, Niverville and St. Adolphe along the way.
The goods: Inspired by Minnesota's Arrowhead 135 winter race, Actif Epica launched last year with the intention of challenging cyclists to a marathon slog through deep snow. But mild weather last winter allowed three racers to complete the route in just over six hours.
Race conditions this year should match the expectations of an event that's intended to pit participants against the elements.
"We looked at the conditions here and thought southern Manitoba is the perfect place for a long race. The defining feature here is the wide open spaces and the extreme wind," said David Pensato, one of Actif Epica's organizers. "The idea is in Manitoba, we're tough and resilient and the winter doesn't stop us."
The race is open this year to people on foot, who get one extra hour to complete the course, which utilizes portions of the Crow Wing Trail, crosses the Red River Floodway and winds up with a section on the frozen surface of the Seine River. Both cyclists and runners are allowed to stop and rest along the way, provided they ensure their bivisacks are in sight of the trail, for safety purposes.
Pensato said he isn't sure who will find the race more difficult this year -- cyclists, who can move more quickly on open stretches, or runners, who don't have to carry bikes through deep snow. "It all depends on the conditions that day," he said.
Duration: Cyclists are allotted 24 hours to complete the race; runners get 25 hours. In 2012, completion times ranged from 6:10 to 13:28.
Participants: There were 35 races in 2012. Organizers are expecting 60 to 70 this year.
Qualifications: Entrants must have completed a 200-kilometre road race, 100-kilometre offroad race or a 130-kilometre mountain-bike race. Other racing experience and/or cold-weather experience may be considered.
Registration deadline: Feb. 9
Entry fee: $75
More info: actifepi.ca