When Conrad Vitasse found out he’d been accepted for Fjällräven’s 2023 Polar expedition, he started walking. In the cold. A lot.
An avid outdoorsman and photographer from Quebec, Conrad was already in good shape, but he knew that the Polar expedition entailed mental and physical demands that would push him far beyond his past experiences. So, he got to work.
As a young man, he dreamt of becoming an explorer and working in wildlife conservation. Ultimately, as is the case for many, his reality fell short of his dreams, and he entered the field of marketing, instead.
Over the past decade, Conrad gradually came to the realization that his life lacked a greater meaning. “I had never done anything extraordinary,” he reflected. “So I was really looking forward to going on this expedition.”
After being accepted, his first priority was to be in good shape and not break anything. Just to be on the safe side, he took the season off from skiing to avoid unnecessary risk. Instead, he ran and walked often, especially in the cold.
He knew that the Polar Expedition would include lots of cardiovascular activity in sub-zero temps, so he attempted to simulate these conditions as much as possible.
“I wanted to see how I manage doing sporting activities in sub-zero temperatures,” Vitasse explained. “I remember going hiking a week before leaving for Sweden. We had a cold spell and the wind was very strong. The temperature that day was -38°C (-36.4°F).”
A Dream Is Born
Now in its 19th year, Fjällräven Polar brings together ordinary people to do extraordinary things. It gathers 20 folks from around the globe for a 300km dog sledding expedition through the Scandinavian arctic tundra. The point? With the right equipment and the right knowledge, anyone can enjoy nature in arctic conditions, regardless of previous outdoor experience
For his part, Conrad first learned about Fjällräven Polar while exploring the brand’s website. As he remembers it, reading the article was like reading a note to himself. It was exactly what he’d always dreamt of — an expedition through the Arctic in winter conditions.
There, in front of his computer screen, Vitasse made a vow. “I promised myself to stop dreaming and to do everything in my power and beyond to live the life I’ve always wanted. So, even though I thought I had no chance, I decided to get over my fear and apply.”
And that’s the point. Far from targeting and recruiting swashbuckling arctic veterans, Fjällräven wants to pluck you off the couch and drop you into the adventure of a lifetime. That said, the 2024 Fjällräven Polar is seeking adventure-minded folks for its 2024 Polar Expedition. If you’re even close to being on (or near) the fence, you should apply!
Rising to the Occasion
For the 2023 Polar Expedition, Conrad and his teammates started their journey in Poikkijärvi, Sweden, and traveled for 5 days up to Signaldalen, Norway. The route traversed forests, frozen lakes, and through the Scandinavian tundra to the mountain range at the border with Norway.
Along the way, the team learned how to camp in the Arctic and manage the sled dog teams — even how to make a mattress with branches. With all water sources frozen solid, they melted snow to boil water for cooking and for watering their canine companions.
“The biggest challenge was to do all this with thick gloves and with temperatures as low as -20°C (-4°F),” Vitasse remembered. “Not to mention that the only shelter we had was our tent. So we were mostly outside and the wind was sometimes very brutal.”
Beyond the fundamentals of camping and driving a sled dog team, Vitasse experienced a psycho-spiritual transformation along the way. He had lost his father a few years prior — the person he looked up to the most — and was struggling in his professional and personal life. Then, the pandemic made things worse.
Burnt out and depressed, Conrad began taking long walks in the forest with his dog. As his mind became clearer, his childhood dreams resurfaced and he decided to fight for the dreams he had long forgotten.
Once in the thick of the arctic tundra, he was amazed. “My mind was blown away by the beauty and purity of the landscape,” he remembered. “Sometimes it felt like we were traveling to places no one had ever been before. Above the treeline, the landscape revealed the beauty of the mountains, but also their unforgiving side as there was nothing to protect from the glacial wind.”
“During the expedition,” he continued, “while I was on the sled and looking at my dogs and the beauty around me, I felt peace for the first time in my life — a true connection between myself and my environment.”
Help Along the Way
To be clear, Fjällräven Polar is not a vacation. From sunup to sundown, the team was busy setting up and taking down camp, melting snow, cooking, taking care of the dogs, preparing the sleds, and sledding. By the evening, everyone was tired and needed a good, long night’s sleep. But Conrad loved every moment.
Such an expedition is no joke and requires heaps of equipment and logistical planning. After 19 years, Fjällräven has reduced it to a science.
Before setting off, every team member received a backpack with all their gear. The kits included base layers, midlayers, a down jacket, a shell jacket, a polar parka, shell pants, winter bibs, winter boots, socks, gloves, a balaclava, and different types of hats. As for hard goods, the team was given a thermos, a 1L bottle, a headlamp, and a knife. For camp, they used Polar Endurance tents and Polar -30 sleeping bags, as well as cooking gear from Primus.
“Every piece was designed for a particular purpose,” Vitasse recalled of his Polar kit. “But I was very impressed by the shell jacket and the boots. The jacket was the Bergtagen Eco-Shell. It’s simple, nothing goes in. It stopped everything. Whatever the environment could throw at me; wind, snow, or even dog claws, the Eco-shell was like an impenetrable fortress.”
It’s About the Journey
The worst part of Conrad’s trip? When it ended. After such a beautiful time spent in the wilderness, it was hard to leave behind the experience.
“Within an hour, we left the mountains where everything was white and pure and far from civilization. Then suddenly, after crossing a forest, we arrived in a parking lot with trucks and a bus,” he said. “Within 20 minutes, the sleds were emptied and stored in the trucks, the dogs were gone and it was time to board the bus.” Just like that, it was over, and many tears were shed.
“That was the hardest moment for me — saying goodbye,” he recognized. “I still miss my dogs and my new Polar family.”
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