Cain's Quest cancelled amid concerns about weather and safety

Team 66, from Finland, ran into trouble on Sunday near Port Hope Simpson. (66 Wild Nordic Finland/Facebook - image credit)
Team 66, from Finland, ran into trouble on Sunday near Port Hope Simpson. (66 Wild Nordic Finland/Facebook - image credit)

Facing poor weather and unseasonable conditions, Cain's Quest has been cancelled.

The snowmobile ultra-marathon in Labrador was put on pause Sunday night and again Tuesday morning, before being cancelled altogether early Tuesday afternoon.

"This was a hard day," said Chris Lacey, the chairperson of the event, in an interview with CBC News on Tuesday.

"It was a stressful day for all of us, and it wasn't something that we took lightly."

Lacey said organizers made the decision to cancel Cain's Quest after completing consultations and considering numerous scenarios.

He said organizers deemed it unsafe to continue the race after speaking with safety personnel across Labrador, including in some towns that weren't official race checkpoints. He said organizers considered numerous scenarios that could potentially allow the race to continue, including opening up alternate routes or moving snowmobilers to a safe checkpoint and restarting the race from there.

Jeremy Eaton/CBC
Jeremy Eaton/CBC

Lacey said racers were included in the decision to cancel the event. He said teams were brought onto a conference call, and that a consensus was reached to end the race.

"This difficult decision was made in consultation with the racers, checkpoint personnel, on-site contacts, and safety personnel," reads a message posted on the group's social media page.

Tuesday morning's delay was made after most racers had made it to the sixth checkpoint, located in Port Hope Simpson. They raced through poor conditions, which had initially led organizers to delay the race Monday morning, before giving the green light around 10 a.m.

People took to social media on Tuesday morning, voicing their concerns about the race continuing at all. Some posted pictures sent to them by racing teams, showing bare terrain full of rocks and mud.

Team 66, hailing from Finland, reportedly went through the ice in open water en route to the checkpoint in Port Hope Simpson on Monday. A representative for the Finnish team said one of the men had to swim 50 feet to shore. The two racers were "soaking wet and cold, but otherwise safe," said the representative. A video posted on Facebook shows them arriving at the checkpoint to loud applause.

Lacey said Tuesday that the Finnish team is safe and in high spirits.

Two teams camped in the wilderness overnight into Tuesday, unable to make it to the nearest checkpoint. A representative for one of the teams said emergency response crews were unable to reach them, prompting their decision to stay put and wait it out.

Southern Labrador has been experiencing heavy rainfall, with 15 to 30 millimetres falling throughout the region from Cartwright to Rigolet on Monday. The forecast was not expected to change enough to improve conditions through the last 12 legs of the race.

Lacey said the snow melt causes flash flooding and water pooling, which can make a snowmobile race treacherous.

Lacey told CBC News on Monday there was a lot of broken sea ice, wind and rain on the course making driving conditions dangerous.

Moving forward

Lacey said the event's board members now have to decide what happens with the cash prizes, as well as the awards ceremony. Although they won't be able to crown first, second and third place winners, Lacey said there are still sportsmanship awards up for grabs and that organizers are sorting out the details for these awards.

He said he's hopeful the race will be back in 2025. Right now, he said, the focus is to get all racers back safely to Labrador City.

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