Thinley Namgay

The initial phase of selecting Bhutanese runners for the 2024 Snowman Race (SMR) will begin in mid-July with the selection run.

The SMR Secretariat and the Bhutan Amateur Athletic Federation (BAAF) have finalised the route for the selection run.

The day-long race will start from Thimphu and conclude in Paro. The route has been planned to expose runners to diverse elevations, mirroring the conditions encountered during the SMR, helping them acclimatise for the high-altitude run.

The race will start from Motithang in Thimphu. Runners will cross Phajoding, Labana, Jigme Langtsho, Tshokam, Jele Dzong, and conclude at Paro National Museum.

Covering a distance of 61km in a day, participants will experience elevations of up to 4,000 metres above sea level. The endpoint in Paro is situated at 2,450 metres above sea level.

There will be five aid stations—Phajoding, Simkota Tsho, Jimilangtsho, Jangchulkha, and Jele Dzong.

As of yesterday, only two participants had registered. Registration will remain open for more than a month.

In the second phase, eight runners chosen from the first round will compete in Laya alongside highland runners to select the top five national runners who will then compete with a group of elite international runners in the SMR.

The decision to prioritise the participation of highlanders in the second phase is aimed at showcasing their stories about the impact of climate change on their communities.

Personal training is ongoing for race enthusiasts. However, the top national athletes from the first SMR are not allowed to participate this time, as they are currently training under the BAAF for international competitions.

The SMR Secretariat, along with 17 other agencies, is gearing up for the activities of this second edition of the race.

The SMR Secretariat and representatives from various agencies held two rounds of technical meetings.

One of the issues discussed at the technical meeting on May 8 was accommodation for officials and runners, as the event coincides with the Royal Highland Festival.

The race will take place on the second day of the Royal Highland Festival in Laya. For some, finding accommodation may be difficult. However, the SMR Secretariat has agreed to ensure early booking with homestay owners.

To attract international participants, Drukair would provide ticket discounts for international runners and the international production team. Moreover, special rate discounts for helicopter services would be offered to international media.

The agencies involved are advised to develop a standard operating procedure on how they can contribute to the race. An official from the DeSuung Office stated that, unlike other agencies, dessups can coordinate and provide necessary support in various areas as requested by agencies.


Media Coverage

NHK International, Nippon Hoso Kyokai  (Japan Broadcasting Corporation), has agreed to produce a special programme with SMR as the main theme and feature Bhutan’s message on climate change.

This will be one of the special programmes when NHK celebrates 100 years in 2025. NHK will  collaborate  with Bhutan Broadcasting Service and will have a programme  in English, Japanese, and Dzongkha.

Michel Beck from Bishop Peak Production will also produce a special documentary about the race.


Risk Management Plans

The SMR is regarded as the world’s toughest race, and the well-being of runners and officials on duty is the primary concern for the country.

The technical team meeting agreed to address the shortcomings of the first SMR in 2022. Reflecting on past issues, the technical team decided to relocate the third aid station to Geche Gom instead of Geche Wom, address the absence of mobile network coverage, and utilise satellite phones for communication.

Moreover, the technical team discussed installing very high-frequency (VHF) radio base sets at all checkpoints to facilitate communication between aid stations and using postpaid SIM cards for satellite phones in aid stations and prepaid SIM cards elsewhere.

Training on the Global Positioning System (GPS) tracker for runners will be coordinated by RBP, Bhutan Red Cross Society, and other relevant agencies.


Changes in this year’s SMR

The race will start from Laya instead of Gasa Dzong in the first edition. The SMR Secretariat stated that flagging off the race on the second day of the Royal Highland Festival would provide an opportunity for participants of both the festival and the race to meet and build networks. “It is also a great opportunity to celebrate their commitment to a good cause together.”

The distance of the 2024 SMR is 196km instead of 203km. Runners will have to complete it in four days, ending in Bumthang. The distances from Laya to Tarina camp, Tarina to Tenche, Tenche to Warthang, and Warthang to Chamkhar are 45 km, 51 km, 46 km, and 54 km, respectively.

Fifteen runners will participate in the race, comprising 10 international runners and five Bhutanese competitors. Organisers aim to provide equal opportunities to both genders. In the first edition, 29 runners participated.

According to the SMR Secretariat, the number of runners has been reduced to increase the profile of athletes with the potential to generate increased climate action and awareness. “The other advantage of a smaller number is the safety of the runners and those organising the race, as it will be easier to manage.”

Eight international athletes have confirmed their participation.

Runners will compete across oxygen-sparse terrain with an average elevation of 4,500m (14,800 feet), with the highest point reaching 5,470m (17,946 feet).