For years, Fulda Tires—a European tire company—organized the televised Fulda Challenge that brought athletes and celebrities together for a series of ten physical challenges along the Dempster Highway. These included ice climbing and auguring, along with less orthodox events like -40C tire-changing, downhill kayaking and car broomball. Stan McNevin, who runs the 32-room Eagle Plains Hotel and Service Station, the only hotel and garage between Inuvik and Dawson City, remembers when a blizzard rolled through one day and closed the highway north of the Arctic Circle in an area aptly nicknamed Hurricane Alley. It created a perfect storm for all eight residents of Eagle Plains, Yukon.
“It was panic and mayhem. There was only eight of us working, and a calamity of errors meant we were full with an oil and gas crew working in the area when that extreme decathlon came through with teams from across Europe. Between the competitors, the organizers and their PR people, I believe there was about 75 of them. They had organized with the Canadian Rangers to come and set up wall tents because they knew we didn’t have enough room for them, but we were still feeding them and holding their meetings. That was all organized and doable—but only for a short period of time. Still, we could get by with eight people on staff.
Then the road closed.
The Yukon Native Hockey Tournament was in Whitehorse that year, and when it was time for all of the players to return home to Aklavik, Tuktoyaktuk, Fort McPherson, Inuvik and all the other communities, they couldn’t because the road was closed. So we had all those people on top of that.
We had people staying in our own apartments, people sleeping in the lobby. The tents outside were full of the Germans and other people competing.
We keep our fingers on things pretty tight under those conditions. It’s all about organization. You just have to keep absolute control: ‘This is how this is going to go. If you’re not happy with that, well…’ People think they need things, but we tell them what they’re going to get and what they actually need. ‘No, you can’t have French toast, plus this, plus that. We’ve got scrambled eggs, potatoes and bacon.’
We dropped the whole à la carte thing and did buffet service. We ran a breakfast buffet for about two to three hours, closed the restaurant completely, cleaned up, set up for a lunch buffet in the afternoon, shut down again and prepared for dinner. And then housekeeping and stuff was going on as well. But basically people just wanted to get fed.
Fulda arrived in the evening for supper, held their competition the following day and then departed the next day. The conditions between here and the Arctic Circle weren’t too bad, so the highways department allowed them to do that, have their competition and get their camera shots. The weather wasn’t too cold, so people could go outside.
The kids coming back from the hockey tournament were all hyped up. In the daytime, the parents got the kids organized outside playing a hockey game in the parking lot. Because of the lounge being closed for drink service due to the crew on shift-work, we had it set up as a rec room with pool, shuffleboard, card games. At that time I think we even had a few of those games like Pac-Man. And people could be indoors, get comfortable and read a book. The lobby was kind of set up the same. It’s just what you have to do.
We got everyone fed and watered relatively quickly. And a part of that eight-person staff is also our service station staff —they’re not only feeding and housing people, they’re also looking after repairs and gas. But because of our location, we can’t just parachute people in to help. We can cover for 36 hours, but after that all hell breaks loose.
It was just a couple of days. It felt like weeks. We were getting to the point where we were going to lose it and then they opened the road. I’m still trying catch up on sleep.”
(This interview has beeen edited and condensed.)