Barren trail casts pallor over Quest banquet

FAIRBANKS There were many tense mushers at the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race start banquet on Thursday night.

FAIRBANKS

There were many tense mushers at the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race start banquet on Thursday night.

And it wasn’t pre-race jitters.

At the musher’s meeting, they’d learned there was no snow on Rosebud Summit — just bare rock and shale.

“I’ve been up there with six feet of snow and it’s insane,” said Whitehorse musher Kyla Boivin.

Once on the summit, mushers run about eight kilometres on a six-metre ridge with steep drops on either side. The ridge trail climbs and falls over outcroppings of rock.

“It’s hairy, scary up and down, and if there’s no snow for the brake, there’s not much you can do for the dogs,” said Boivin.

“Breaking a sled or injuring five or six dogs is not a certainty, but it’s a likely possibility.”

Rather than sending teams over that trail, race officials are considering trucking the dogs from Chena Hot Springs checkpoint to Mile 101 dog drop, roughly 65 kilometres.

“If I have trouble on Rosebud and have to scratch, then I’m never running this race again,” said Whitehorse rookie Didier Moggia.

“It’s too much of an investment for me, my wife, dogs and sponsors to have to go home at Mile 101.”

Boivin agreed.

“If we run over Rosebud, I’m never running the race again either — not from this direction,” she said.

Before Thursday’s musher’s meeting, veteran mushers were invited to a private gathering to discuss trucking dogs around Rosebud.

Eight mushers showed up. And six wanted dogs trucked.

“I want to protect the dogs,” said Tagish veteran Michelle Phillips, during the banquet.

“That can be a pretty rough section.”

It’s especially dangerous when the team is still “rippin’, snorting” to go, she said.

“When you start a race and they’re fresh and you’re hitting glaciers and going down hills with no snow, it’s scary — it’s not necessary.

“We’re here for the dogs and we’ve got to take care of them. When you’re going down a trail without snow, what’s going to happen?

“You can’t slow down and brake on shale rock.”

The dogs know when a musher’s out of control, said Boivin.

“They start trying to slow down and there’s a good chance of breaking legs.”

It’s best to err on the side of caution, said ‘87 Quest champ Bill Cotter, who is racing this year.

“I haven’t seen the trail, so it’s all secondhand information, but no snow on those steep downhills is crazy.”

Dawsonite Peter Ledwidge, whose wife Ann is running in his place after his back acted up, also wants the dogs trucked.

 “I’ve wiped out on some of those drops, and if there’s no snow to cushion it, the musher and the dogs could get hurt, and the sled could get trashed,” said Ledwidge, who has sat on the Quest trail committee.

But Dawson veteran Cor Guimond wants to take his team over Rosebud.

“It’s part of the race and I think it should be in — this race starts under all kinds of weather conditions and that’s all part of it.”

“It’s the Quest,” said Annie Lake musher Hugh Neff.

“But hopefully they’ll make the right call and choose what’s best for the dogs,” he added.

Guimond was one of two mushers who supported running the trail as is, during the veteran mushers meeting.

“I really can’t see how the dogs could get all that hurt if there’s a lack of snow,” he said.

“It’s more the mushers being worried about getting hurt, but I was outnumbered.”

A younger musher first voiced concern, said Guimond.

And then some older mushers backed that up, he said.

“So, maybe the young are too young and the old are too old.

“I support the original route, the original plans and the original ideas, but that changed a long time ago.”

Sonny Lindner, who won the first Yukon Quest in ‘84, is “out looking at the trail right now,” added Guimond.

The decision to truck dogs or run over Rosebud rests with Doug Grilliot, who was appointed race marshal several weeks ago after two previous marshals quit earlier this year.

“There have been no decisions so far,” said Grilliot during the banquet.

“We’ve got people out there looking at the trail and we’re waiting for their final reports.”

A decision will be made Friday, he said.

“It’s no secret we haven’t had much snow in this part of the country.

“And we knew we’d be making some decisions in the last week.”

With the cold snap, and still no snow, Rosebud “went to the top of the list,” said Grilliot.

“If it was flat it would be a different story, but it’s not flat up there.

“And three to five miles can be a long way if it’s barren.”

Eagle Summit, which has been hazardous in the past, has lots of snow this year, he added.

The Quest trucked dogs before, said Boivin.

“In ‘03 they trucked us from Braeburn to Carmacks because there wasn’t enough snow and there were logs and stumps sticking out.

“That’s much less scary than what we’re talking about now, and that was 100 miles.”

“It’s an easy decision in the end,” said Grilliot. “We’ll do what’s best for the dogs and mushers.”

In past races, “people have sometimes been a little robotic about just doing it,” said veteran Frank Turner.

“But that’s changed.

“The race has no interest in sending us on a trail that’s unsuited for dogs.”

Reigning champ Lance Mackey isn’t so sure.

“There’s a lot of people that won’t sign up for this race again until they have people making confident decisions to not send us over stuff like that,” he said.

Once officials start making better decisions, they might get more people signing up, he said.

“Because nobody wants to go out there and injure themselves or their dogs, and that is ultimately the biggest concern — the dogs.”

On Saturday Moggia from Whitehorse/France will be first out of the Chena River start chute.

“I’m not comfortable with that,” he told the crowd, in a thick accent.

“That is just terrible for me.”

Just Posted

Whether the dust jacket of this historical novel is the Canadian version (left) or the American (right), the readable content within is the same. (Michael Gates)
History Hunter: New novel a gripping account of the gold rush

Stampede: Gold Fever and Disaster in the Klondike is an ‘enjoyable and readable’ account of history

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your furnace and your truck need to go

Perhaps the biggest commitment in the NDP deal with the Liberals was boosting the Yukon’s climate target

Dave Blottner, executive director at the Whitehorse Food Bank, said the food bank upped its services because of the pandemic. (John Tonin/Yukon News)
Food Bank sees Yukoners’ generosity firsthand

“Businesses didn’t know if they could stay open but they were calling us to make sure we were able to stay open.”

Air North president Joe Sparling said the relaxing of self-isolation rules will be good for the business, but he still expects a slow summer. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News)
Air North president expects a slow summer

Air North president Joe Sparling suspects it will be a long time before things return to pre-pandemic times

XX
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for May 14, 2021.… Continue reading

Caribou pass through the Dempster Highway area in their annual migration. A recent decision by the privacy commissioner has recommended the release of some caribou collar re-location data. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News)
Privacy commissioner recommends release of caribou location data

Department of Environment says consultation with its partners needed before it will consider release

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Family pleased youth will be able to get Pfizer vaccine

Angela Drainville, mother of two, is anxious for a rollout plan to come forward

Safe at home office in Whitehorse on May 10, 2021. (John Tonin/Yukon News)
Federal government provides $1.6 million for Yukon anti-homelessness work

Projects including five mobile homes for small communities received funding.

Drilling at Northern Tiger’s 3Ace gold project in 2011. Randi Newton argues that mining in the territory can be reshaped. (Yukon government/file)
Editorial: There’s momentum for mining reform

CPAWS’ Randi Newton argues that the territory’s mining legislations need a substantial overhaul

At its May 10 meeting, Whitehorse city council approved the subdivision for the Kwanlin Dün First Nation’s business park planned in Marwell. (Submitted)
KDFN business park subdivision approved

Will mean more commercial industrial land available in Whitehorse

Main Street in Whitehorse on May 4. Whitehorse city council has passed the first two readings of a bylaw to allow pop-up patios in city parking spaces. Third reading will come forward later in May. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Whitehorse council pursuing restaurant patio possibilities

Council passes first two readings for new patio bylaw

Neil Hartling, the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon president, left, said the new self-isolation guidelines for the Yukon are a ‘ray of hope’ for tourism operators. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)
Yukon tourism operators prepared for ‘very poor summer’ even with relaxed border rules

Toursim industry responds to new guidelines allowing fully vaccinated individuals to skip mandatory self-isolation.

Most Read