When 26 teams take off for Fairbanks on Saturday in the Yukon Quest, they will have some good trail conditions, says Michael Peterson, president of the race’s board of directors on the Yukon side.
Two weeks of sub-minus-20 temperatures and plenty of snow have the trail in good shape, he said Thursday.
“The cold helped, and what probably helped more than the cold was the snow,” said Peterson. “That Pineapple Express that kind of hit the west coast in B.C. with a huge dump of rain a couple week ago, that translated into snow here and really set things up well.
“There was glare ice, but that’s all been covered with snow and it’s made a pretty good trail all the way through.”
The event, which bills itself as the “1,000-mile international sled dog race,” could actually be that distance this year. That wasn’t the case the last two years.
In 2013 and 2014, the American Summit in Alaska was bypassed, cutting about 50 miles (80 kilometres) off the trail. Last year, due to thin ice on the Yukon River, the finish line was moved north of Whitehorse, shaving off another 30 miles (48 kilometres).
“The trail is a dynamic thing; from year to year there’s minor changes,” said Peterson. “One year it might be along the shore of a lake and it might move up into the trees a small amount.
“But generally there’s no change at all. And on the American side it’s over all the summits ... In previous years it has bypassed some of them. It’s pretty much exactly the way it should be.”
This year’s field of mushers features four past champions, including two-time defending champ Allen Moore of Two Rivers, Alaska. The 57-year-old won the race the last two years and finished second in 2012.
“It’ll be exciting,” said Moore in a recent interview with the News. “You just never know what you’re going to get when you get to the Quest. They all are really good mushers, they have done well in the Iditarod and a lot of other races. You just have to be a little bit lucky in these races, not get dogs injured. If you keep your dogs healthy, you have a good chance at being up in the front, which I hope I am.”
2012 Quest champ Hugh Neff of Tok, Alaska will attempt to take back the crown after finishing as the runner-up behind Moore the last two years. This year’s race will be the 47-year-old’s 15th Yukon Quest.
Fairbanks, Alaska’s Lance Mackey will attempt to win a record fifth Quest. Mackey, 44, who is the first musher to win the Quest and Iditarod in the same year, has four of each title under his belt.
Jeff King from Denali Park, Alaska is making his first Quest run in 25 years. The 59-year-old won the race in 1989 and claimed second in 1986 and 1990.
This year’s Quest also has a strong Yukon contingent.
Tagish’s Ed Hopkins, 50, and Whitehorse’s Normand Casavant, 51, are both racing their fifth Quests. Hopkins placed eighth in 2005 for his best finish and Casavant, who scratched last year, placed seventh in 2013.
Dawson City’s Brian Wilmshurst, 32, is set for his fourth consecutive Quest. Wilmshurst placed 10th last year and was given the Sportsmanship Award.
Whitehorse’s Rob Cooke, 48, will ride in his second Quest after placing 18th in 2013 and Mount Lorne’s Tamra Reynolds, 42, is one of 11 rookies in this year’s race.
Teams will begin leaving the start line in three-minute intervals at 11 a.m. on Saturday at Shipyards Park in downtown Whitehorse.
The frontrunners are expected to reach Dawson City - the race’s halfway point - around Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning.
Contact Tom Patrick at