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Four of the World's Most Daunting Cold-Weather Races Taking Place in 2016

This winter, endurance athletes from numerous countries around the world will bundle up and compete in several of the most daunting and rigorous races around the world all while staving off bone-chilling conditions.

While the North Pole, Canada's Yukon Territory and Alaska are not common winter getaway destinations, for those who love the outdoors and the thrill of competition, these cold weather locations are quite appealing.

Ice and snow-covered roadways and trails won't stop these hardened explorers. In fact, they'll welcome the challenge. Here are four of the most grueling races that will occur in cold places in 2016.

Yukon Arctic Ultra - Feb. 4-12

Held in the remote wilderness of the Yukon in northwestern Canada, the Yukon Arctic Ultra pits its intrepid competitors on a punishing trek that can take a week or longer to complete. Entrants can ski, walk or bike, thanks to the rise in fat-tire bicycles, in multiple races of different lengths. Options include regular marathon distance, 100 miles, 300 miles and a biennial 430-mile race.

The trail is marked, but according to the competition's website, fresh snow or high winds can make the trail difficult to follow, so the marathoners are encouraged to bring a GPS.

Shelley Gellatly, 52, from Whitehorse, Yukon, which is where the race begins, has competed in different events in the ultramarathon multiple times. While Gellatly has braved the 430-mile course twice, she was unable to finish each time.

"The 430-mile course is very challenging as there is no road access for well over 120 miles," she said. "The trail is remote, mountainous and cold in this area."

The fastest time Gellatly recorded while participating was just under 30 hours, including a mandatory four-hour layover for the 100-mile event. For the 300-mile competition, it took her six and a half days.

On the first day of last year's competition, temperatures did not go above minus 35 F (minus 37 C) and fell to as low as minus 49 F (minus 45 C). It was the harshest weather that Gellatly has ever encountered while participating in the event, she said.

To prepare, Gellatly undergoes rigorous strength training such as pulling a weighted sled in the snow. To help get used to the cold, she spends more time outdoors by practicing lighting a stove and camping in the frigid cold.

The landscape and the trail is what Gellatly enjoys most about the Yukon Arctic Ultra.

"We are very lucky to live in an area of North America that is so wild and has so few roads," she said.

North Pole Marathon - April 9

Held at the top of the world, the North Pole Marathon has been recognized as the "World's Coolest Marathon" and promises the running experience of a lifetime for athletes who seek a formidable encounter with Mother Nature.

The 14th annual Arctic race covers a traditional marathon length of 26.2 miles that is run entirely on an ice floe of 6-12 feet on top of the Arctic Ocean. Guinness World Records has recognized the race as the northernmost event in the world.

In 2002, Race Director Richard Donovan was the first person to cover the distance at the North Pole before later establishing it as a race. Donovan, who finished in 3 hours and 48 minutes, said the biggest challenges are the underfoot conditions and the extreme cold. Additionally, polar bears have been known to appear near the course, so as director, he must keep the course stationed with guards to scare the bears away.

The coldest race conditions were in 2015 when temperatures reached minus 23 F (minus 31 C), Donovan said, adding that when he ran the first marathon by himself, the wind chill was minus 76 F (minus 60 C).

Since the race is held in such brutal cold, entrants have been known to prepare in several unusual ways, such as running on a treadmill inside of a freezer. To help runners thaw out and avoid being in the Arctic chill for too long, a large heated tent is set up every 2-3 miles.

As for why someone would flock to the North Pole to run this marathon, Donovan said it's because there are people who look for adventure but can't devote the time to go on an extended expedition or might not have the required specialist skills.

"The marathon fills this void," he said. "People get an opportunity to stand at a very special and extreme location, at the top of the planet, and deservedly earn their place there by running 26.2 miles through the snow and ice in the bitter cold."

Iditarod Sled Dog Race - March 6

For the past 43 years, mushers and their dogs have embarked on the nearly 1,000-mile-long Iditarod trail across Alaska which spans dense forests, frozen tundra and vast mountain ranges while leaving little room to hide from what can be an unrelenting Alaskan winter.

Matthew Failor, a contestant in the 2015 race, previously told AccuWeather that mushers often get very little sleep during the course of the Iditarod since time is of the essence.

Each day over the length of the event consists of 30-60 miles of travel followed by time to massage the dogs, Failor said. After about five or six hours of sleep, the time comes again to push onward.

While there are checkpoints that offer comfort and shelter when mushers need to gain a few hours of shut-eye, others like Failor choose to sleep outdoors when temperatures frequently drop below zero. Failor said he has spent nights in his sleeping bag in temperatures as low as minus 50 F (minus 46 F).

Sometimes, the toughest course conditions can occur when there is little to no snow, which has happened in recent years with Alaska having milder winters, leaving the trail a mixture of rocks, ice and dirt.

"When you throw 16 supercharged, athletic racing dogs and you hook [them] up to a 35-pound sled and you go careening down the Alaskan Mountain Range with no snow on the ground, it's a harrowing ride for the musher, but a fun ride for the dogs because they can go as fast as they want to go," Failor said.

2016 Snowshoe National Championships - Feb. 26-28

Snowshoeing is one of the most popular winter recreational activities across the U.S., as it's an easy way for those who love to run to stay active and cross-train during colder and snowier weather.

For many who take up the sport, it becomes a passion, and in some cases, a frequent way to keep their competitive juices flowing. The United States Snowshoe Association regularly holds contests around the country including a national championship event that rotates around the country every year.

The 2016 Snowshoe National Championships will take place in Ogden, Utah, at Power Mountain Resort, and feature the traditional 26.2-mile race, half marathon and 10K events. Average high temperatures in Ogden in late February are near 46 F (8 C) while average lows are around 28 F (minus 2 C).

Snowshoers will run courses layered in deep thick power to a light snowfall where parts of the trail can be exposed. Subzero conditions, howling winds and near whiteout conditions are several factors that can interfere with a race.

Michelle McCarthy, of Gladstone, Michigan, competed in last year's national event and has won several races in her career. One of the reasons she enjoys the sport is that it isn't for the faint of heart.

"You have to be ready to be out in the exposed elements pushing your body as far as it will go," she told

AccuWeather before last year's championship. "It's fun being in the woods and with others all out there to [do] something few actually do."