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Friday, January 7, 2011

Reality TV shows up at the South Pole

It came in the form of a ski race, one country against another: Germany vs. Austria.  Two team leads: a television comedian for the German team and a pluri-decorated Olympic skier for the Austrian team.  The team leaders selected their three other team members out of ordinary people who had applied in their respective countries.  They all went training in Norway for some time, then they flew to Antarctica, where a plane dropped them 250 miles from the South Pole.  The winner would be the first team to reach the pole.  They would need to choose the route and select the strategy, particularly when and how long to rest.  A TV crew would follow them by car and film them about 3 hours every day, leaving them on their own for the rest of the day.  A 6-hr reality TV show will result and will be aired later this year on German and Austrian TVs. 
At the end of the race they spent a few days camped out near the station, so we had plenty of opportunities to go meet with them and socialize. 

We learnt a little bit about what it takes to ski across the plateau.  The skis get skins instead of wax.  The sleds are lightweight, but can still weigh 40 kg when fully loaded, and are hauled with a harness that is part of a backpack.  Food, according to one of the German team members, was hard to swallow.  They said they were cold most of the time, and the landscape was obsessively monotonous.  After talking with them I realized how different their experience is from our's.  They endured harsh conditions to enjoy the outdoors in Antarctica.  We at the station get to enjoy the outdoors, but are never far away from a good meal, a hot cup of tea, or a private room with centralized heating.  As Reinhold Messner put it in his book about crossing the white continent by ski, Antarctica is heaven and hell; for us in the station it is just heaven.

The Austrian team posed for us. At the far right is team leader Hermann Maier, gold medalist in Nagano (1998) in the Super-G and Giant Slalom, medalist again in Turin (2006), and world champion multiple times.

Arctic Trucks, the modified Toyotas from Iceland, were once again here at the South Pole.  One of them was equipped with a boom for a Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR).  It is a device that rides on the snow ahead of the car and can detect the presence of crevasses.  As it turns out, the crew selected a route that had minimal glacial movements and did not encounter a single crevasse.

I left them the bicycle to enjoy for a day.  When I went back to pick it up they told me they had great fun with it, and they even invented a new sport.  I call it "The last one pedaling".  Here is how it works: one starts pedaling on a groomed surface, then launches on the sastrugi, where the bicycle wheels will start sinking.  The winner is the one who can go the farthest before falling down.  The ride does not last more than 100 ft.  We love the sport and we decided to include it in our upcoming Polympics.

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