Polar Bear adventure makes memories that last

Participants in the annual Polar Bear Run/Bike across Lake Winnipeg. Photo by Tom Kolesnik.

The view of endless wind-swept snow wasn’t the only thing Jeff Badger stumbled upon when he decided to run across frozen Lake Winnipeg; he also witnessed the start of a Manitoba tradition.

Badger may not have envisioned himself a pioneer when he made the trek 22 years ago, but that 27 kilometre journey across the ice from Gimli to Hillside Beach made local sports history.

It’s since become folklore: passed down from runner to runner, talked about between local sportspeople, and spurning the interest of anyone lucky enough to hear it.

It was the winter Polar Bear Run across the Lake, in early March. And now it’s an annual event.

Badger’s three boys escorted him on ATV during that original journey. Once on the other side, they feasted at a restaurant in the old part of town called the Strawberry Patch. After that, two of the boys jumped into their grandfather’s car and drove back to Gimli, while Badger and his remaining son retraced the journey on ATV.

Fat Biker Jason Carter during last year’s event.
Photo by Tom Kolesnik.

Every year since that first adventure, Badger has organized a run close to that very same route. Now the event has grown to include his “extended family” of 30 to 40 runners.

And last year, five Fat Bikers entered the foray. The organizers allowed the cyclists to do a double cross, first starting in Grand Marais (the opposite side from the runners), biking clear across to Gimli, and then back again.

To the surprise of the bikers, however, the runners instead met up with the bikers in Grand Marais at 6 a.m., for their own planned double crossing.

According to Fat Biker Tom Kolesnik, the journey was amazing.

“It was a beautifully surreal ride across a wide, frozen Lake Winnipeg, which in the dark was mesmerizing and at sunrise (at the middle) was breathtakingly polar. We could not see any shoreline and the rising sun-dogged view was like being on the polar icecap.”

The ride may have been beautiful, but the snow was soft – the consistency of mashed potatoes – which made it difficult. Kolesnik spent nine hours on the ice with his bike.

Last year’s Fat Bike route. Photo supplied.

He appreciated the support of volunteers on snowmobiles, who brought participants Gatorade and other beverages and ensured everyone was safe.

This year’s Polar Bear Run/Bike takes place on Sunday, Mar. 9.

The runners start two kilometers south of Gimli at 9 a.m. The Fat Bikers start in Grand Marais at 6 a.m. The runners will travel the width of the lake and then return to Gimli on snowmobiles. The cyclists will travel from Grand Marais to Gimli and then back again. The goal is to have cyclists meet up with the runners in Grand Marais and then escort them back to Gimli, where they will lunch together.

A $25 entry fee covers the costs of snowmobile fuel and drinks, and any money remaining will be donated to Habitat for Humanity.

For more information contact Jeff Badger, at 204-291-5892204-291-5892 or badger@mymts.net.

The endless wind-swept snow on Lake Winnipeg.
Photo by Gregory MacNeill.


Gregory C. McNeill


Greg has been writing stories and taking pictures of local cyclists, runners, and triathletes for over 4 years. He is a member of fatbikemanitoba.com, volunteers with trail building at www.2wheelrevolution.ca, and is a participant in long distance cycling with www.manitobarandonneurs.ca