Race Review: Arctic Spine 2024

Discover how the first-ever Arctic Spine Race action unfolded. Hear from race winner Kevin Leahy.

This year, the team behind the iconic Winter Spine Race set their sights a little further afield to put racers through their toughest challenge yet. The task? The complete Sweden’s Kungsleden trail in the depths of winter. Hear from race founder Phil Hay Day Brown to discover where the idea of the Arctic  Spine Race came from.

With temperatures dipping as low as -42 degrees on the trail and the added unknown factor given the race's inaugural edition, the first-ever Arctic Spine Race had to be heavily adapted along the way for the racers’ safety.

In the end, there was just one racer left, Irishman Kevin Leahy (previously seen on both the MYAU and MLAU). Keep reading to hear how he got on…


Kevin’s Race Debrief

So the plan was to ski 460 km along the Kunglsleden train in Winter. 15 brave souls made the start line. We all stayed in Abisko the two nights before the race. In the end, I was the last person standing in the race after 8 days. I skied just over 300 km after the race organisers decided to adapt the race part way through. 

Most of the other participants dropped out of the race within the first 24 hours, owing to tougher-than-expected conditions making them unable to make the cut-off times at checkpoints. This was an early reminder of just how tough the Arctic Winter race is. I broke a lot of snow on the trail the first two days and was moving less than 0.5km per hour at certain points. 


After fellow racer Ed Sellon completed the Arctic Spine Challenger, I was the only person left on the course for 3 days and 2 nights. Temperatures got down to -42 degrees celcius on 2 nights on the race (a lot colder than we thought it would get), plus we only had about 6 hours of daylight each day.

Most of my days consisted of about 21 hours moving. I slept on average between 1-3 hours per night.  Normally I’d sleep between 2 & 4 am. I stopped every two hours to sit down and have a snack, for breakfast, which consisted of about 1000 calories, then during the day I’d snack on nuts, dark chocolate, dried meats, and dates. For dinner, I’d have another 1000-calorie dried meal. I was also melting snow for my water.


Being out on the trail all alone for the last 2 nights was pretty special. The scenery was stunning and I enjoyed some beautiful, sunsets, sunrises, and moonlit trails.  I was also lucky enough to see some faint northern lights on a few of the nights too. 

Thanks to the Spine family who are such a great bunch of people and it was great to meet the Sami people along the route too. I’d recommend the race to anyone keen to spend the time needed to learn about Arctic survival.


Looking for more Arctic adventure?

Kevin Leahy was the first-ever winner of the Arctic Spine Race. For those eagerly awaiting the next sub-zero challenge, you don’t have to wait long. The Montane Lapland Arctic Ultra returns on 03 March.