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Thin ice spurs route change in Yukon Quest

This year's Yukon Quest will be a different experience for mushers and spectators alike.

This year’s Yukon Quest will be a different experience for mushers and spectators alike.

Unseasonably warm weather over the past week on both sides of the border has prompted major changes to the course.

Both the start and finish lines have been moved, the Quest announced late Tuesday night.

“It’s no secret to the public how warm the weather has been and how difficult it is for any outdoor activities, but for mushing on a river, it was just too dangerous,” said Quest executive director Marie Belanger.

The Quest will start on Second Avenue in downtown Fairbanks, a couple blocks from the original start on Chena River. Warmer-than-usual temperatures have thinned the river’s ice, which has been deemed unsafe for mushing teams and the 3,000 spectators expected to witness the start.

Whitehorse spectators will have much farther to go to view the end of the race. This year the finish line will be at Takhini Hot Springs off the Northern Klondike Highway, shaving about 30 kilometres off the length of the race. The Yukon River, used in the final stretch of the race in prior years, is also considered unsafe for dog sled teams.

“The Rangers, when they put in the trail, did not feel comfortable allowing teams to go down safely all the way to Whitehorse,” said Belanger.

Yesterday was the second day in a row Quest officials announced course changes for the 1,600-kilometre sled dog race between Fairbanks, Alaska and Whitehorse.

For the second consecutive year teams will bypass American Summit, the shortest of four mountains on the Quest route at 1,042 metres.

Racers will instead follow the Yukon River between Eagle, Alaska, and Dawson City, the race’s halfway point.

“The only reason why we’d take that peak off is because of impassible conditions,” said Belanger. “If it’s precarious or dangerous for the teams, that’s the only reason why we’d make changes to the trail.

“The Alaskan trail-breakers went up there, just like last year, and it was very difficult, if not impossible, to pass with snowmachines. So we can suspect dog teams are going to struggle.”

By circumnavigating American Summit, the route to Whitehorse will be shortened by about 80 kilometres.

The year’s race will feature the smallest field of teams in Quest history, with only 21 registered, including five Canadians.

Whitehorse’s Normand Casavant, Yukon’s top finisher in last year’s Quest, and Dawson City’s Brian Wilmshurst and Jean-Denis Britten are the only Yukoners in this year’s Quest.

The race starts Saturday in Fairbanks.

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