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Numb Bum 24 returns to Sandy Lake

World’s longest, coldest ice race back after COVID break
1602 NumbBum 1118 km
30 YEARS ON ICE — The Numb Bum 24 returns to Sandy Lake this weekend for it's 30th edition. Racers will blast across the frozen lake as they compete to finish the most laps in 24 hours. Shown here is a competitor from the 2009 race. KEVIN MA/St. Albert Gazette

Chainsaw tires will bite ice this weekend as racers from across Canada return to Sandy Lake for the world’s longest, coldest race on ice.

The Numb Bum 24 ice race returns to Sandy Lake Feb. 19 and 20.

Now in its 30th edition, the Numb Bum sees competitors race quads and motorbikes across the frozen Sandy Lake next to Alexander First Nation to see who can complete the most laps in 24 hours.

Organizer Dan Cheron said they had to cancel the Numb Bum last year due to the pandemic, but brought it back this year due to demand.

“People need to start doing stuff,” he said, and the race team figured out how to hold the event within health regulations.

All racers this year register online instead of in person and are told to bring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to the race, Cheron said. Participants are to wear masks whenever they are close together and will have their meals delivered curbside instead of fetching them from the local community hall (which is unavailable due to the pandemic).

Cheron and his crew spent the last week ploughing this year’s track. While the course was designed on the fly, Cheron said the track is typically 14 to 16 kilometres long with a mix of fast straightaways, challenging twists and turns, and his signature snail-like spiral.

Jeff Ryll of Bonnyville is one of the 78 people who signed up to race as of Feb. 9. Back for his 10th Numb Bum, he is riding a Yamaha YZ450FX motorcycle modified with lights, wheel guards, and screw-studded tires that bite into the ice like chainsaws.

Ryll said he was ecstatic when he heard this year’s race was a go, as he feared COVID might have spelled the end for this unique event. He has been running on a treadmill and working on a rowing machine to prepare for what he hopes will be a full 24-hour solo ride, much of which will be spent hurtling through the darkness at up to 130 km/h.

30th anniversary

The Numb Bum 24 started in 1983 in Grande Prairie and moved to Sandy Lake in 2000, racers told The Gazette. The event set a Guinness World Record as the longest, coldest motorized ice race in 1994 when temperatures dipped to -48 C. The race has since drawn competitors from around the world and has had guest appearances by daredevil Evel Knievel, then-premier Ralph Klein, and comedian Rick Mercer.

The Numb Bum is notorious for its grueling effects on riders. Arctic temperatures, high speeds, questionable traction, and pools of slush and water can lead to frostbite, broken arms, and wipeouts. Rider Troy Ritchie was seriously injured by his bike’s buzzsaw-like tires during the 2015 Numb Bum and later died in hospital; Alberta ice racers have been required to put rear wheel guards on their bikes ever since.

All that ice and cold also does a number on the machines, none of which are meant to run for this long under these conditions. Ryll said he and his team won the race's "Innovator" award during the 2013 race for keeping their quad running despite losing a wheel, breaking the steering column, and blowing the engine.

“We started with two good-to-go quads and by the end of it we had one-and-a-quarter quads left!” he said, as they had to cannibalize one for parts.

Ryll said it is the challenge of the Numb Bum that brings him back year after year.

“The whole time you’re there, you’re suffering and complaining, fighting through it, and a week later you’re planning for next year. It’s just a fun event.”

The race runs from noon Saturday to noon Sunday. Spectator tickets are $10, half of which goes towards the Sun and Sand Recreation League. Visit numbbum.ca for details.


Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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