EDITORIAL: Where the Quest faltered, the community stands tall

Literally anything would have been better than nothing

It’s been a rough summer for the Yukon Quest, or at least one assumes it has.

After the June announcement of separate races for Alaska and the Yukon, speculation and cautious optimism have been the mood for those on the periphery of the mushing world.

While a 1,000-mile race was out of the question, surely the Yukon Quest 300 routes would be the obvious answer for both sides.

Things on the Alaskan side are, admittedly, a bit easier.

The trail begins in Fairbanks, has two checkpoints that are essentially purpose-built for the race and two more checkpoints in Central, Alaska, and Circle, Alaska, respectively.

Assuming the folks in Central and Circle are OK with it, not much would be needed in terms of outside cooperation.

In Canada, things are more complicated yet also much more exciting.

A Yukon Quest 300 that begins in Whitehorse typically runs through Braeburn and Carmacks before ending in Pelly Crossing.

Another option — one that it appears the Canadian board decided was the only option — was a race from Dawson City to Whitehorse. From Dawson, mushers would have raced to Pelly Crossing and run the 300 course in reverse.

Exactly how close the Quest board came to finalizing the details for a race is unknown — the Quest somehow manages to be as opaque and noncommittal as the most seasoned government communications mercenaries — but it is safe to assume they were never anywhere near being able to announce a race.

The story goes the board couldn’t get the OK from some of the First Nations along the route and sponsorships are down thanks to COVID-19, meaning the race’s Sept. 3 cancellation was inevitable.

With COVID-19 protocols changing in the Yukon, albeit it slowly, it doesn’t seem that outrageous for communities to ask the race to respect the travel and self-isolation requirements for travellers and to decline to give an unconditional OK for a race nearly six months away.

Faced with the option of planning a race that may need tweaking later or figuring out a different race route entirely, the board chose to pack up and call it a day.

What’s doubly frustrating for race fans, observers and mushers is the seeming lack of consultation with mushers.

On the surface it appears mushers weren’t asked about the race. From reaching out to a few local mushers for reaction to the decision, it seems fair to say there was no organized outreach, polling, or opinion gathering undertaken.

And if there was, it certainly didn’t prove successful.

“Hi Musher, we’re in a bit of a bind — what would it take to get you on the starting line of a mid-distance race with the Quest name this year?”

With the Yukon executive director leaving her position at the end of August, it begs the question what impact that had on race planning. Regardless of the reasons, the timing could not have been worse.

If permissions to travel on traditional territories were the issue, why not try a 200-mile race from Whitehorse to Braeburn and back? Surely restricting the race to the traditional territories of a smaller number of First Nations would make finding an agreement significantly easier.

Make Braeburn a mandatory checkpoint of some sort and you not only get to hold a race that bears the Quest name and legacy, but one that allows those who wouldn’t consider a 1,000-mile race to compete.

More importantly, it could serve as a qualifier for future 1,000-mile races. Last year, the Quest decided that Lori and Louve Tweddell were not only unable to race the 1,000 but also unable to transfer to the 300.

At the time it was a heavily scrutinized decision that didn’t make a lot of sense to big-picture folks who wanted to grow the race and the sport. Now, perhaps it should have been the canary in the coal mine that there was a disconnect between the race organizers and everybody else.

Here in the Yukon, we’re treated to a handful of mid-distance races outside the Quest. The Granger Grind, Silver Sled and Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Race all manage to draw solid turnouts despite the competition for entries from the Quest and Iditarod.

Why, then, couldn’t the Quest have found a time slot that worked and run a similar race of 200 to 300 miles?

There are a number of mushers, including plenty of Quest veterans, who it is fair to say would have willingly come out of retirement to run a mid-distance race.

It could have had the double bonus of not only padding the field’s numbers, but also the race’s credibility.

Any prize pool would have been much smaller, but so too would have been costs for mushers, the number of volunteers required and the length of trail that would need breaking.

The race was founded as a way to pay tribute to the Yukon River and all the travellers who made the trek into the Klondike for the 1898 gold rush and on into the interior of Alaska for the subsequent discoveries of gold.

It markets itself now as being about dog care and self-reliance — that Yukon spirit so many in the territory are proud to identify with.

Going out with a whimper like this seems to fly in the face of that perseverance, but not all is lost.

Days after the announcement of the Canadian cancellation, work is already underway within the mushing community to plan a mid-distance race. Posts about a possible race have attracted plenty of interest, including offers to volunteer and ideas on possible routes.

Mushers are a resilient bunch, that much is clear. It shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone to see a mid-distance race for mushers, by mushers — not unlike what the Quest was founded on — materialize in the Yukon this winter.

What impact that race could have in the future — acknowledging a one-off race is all hypothetical at this point — is very difficult to predict.

So far the Quest, in both Alaska and the Yukon, has been unambiguous that the race will be back in 2022 in all its former glory.

Without a willingness to adapt and compromise, that too could prove to be just words.

(JHH)

EditorialsYukon Quest

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A Copper Ridge resident clears their driveway after a massive over night snowfall in Whitehorse on Nov. 2, 2020. Environment Canada has issued a winter storm warning for the Whitehorse and Haines Junction areas for Jan. 18. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Winter storm warning for Haines Junction and Whitehorse

Environment Canada says the storm will develop Monday and last until Tuesday

Maria Metzen off the start line of the Yukon Dog Mushers Association’s sled dog race on Jan. 9. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Mushers race in preparation for FirstMate Babe Southwick

The annual race is set for Feb. 12 and 13.

The Yukon government is making changes to the medical travel system, including doubling the per diem and making destinations for medical services more flexible. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Subsidy for medical travel doubled with more supports coming

The change was recommended in the Putting People First report endorsed by the government

Chloe Sergerie, who was fined $500 under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> on Jan. 12, says she made the safest choice available to her when she entered the territory. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Woman fined $500 under CEMA says she made ‘safest decision’ available

Filling out a declaration at the airport was contrary to self-isolation, says accused

Yukon University has added seven members to its board of governors in recent months. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
New members named to Yukon U’s board of governors

Required number of board members now up to 17

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your Northern regulatory adventure awaits!

“Your Northern adventure awaits!” blared the headline on a recent YESAB assessment… Continue reading

Yukoner Shirley Chua-Tan is taking on the role of vice-chair of the social inclusion working group with the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences’ oversight panel and working groups for the autism assessment. (Submitted)
Canadian Academy of Health Sciences names Yukoner to panel

Shirley Chua-Tan is well-known for a number of roles she plays in… Continue reading

The Fish Lake area viewed from the top of Haeckel Hill on Sept. 11, 2018. The Yukon government and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced they are in the beginning stages of a local area planning process for the area. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Local area planning for Fish Lake announced

The Government of Yukon and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced in… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Fire damage, photographed on Jan. 11, to a downtown apartment building which occurred late in the evening on Jan. 8. Zander Firth, 20, from Inuvik, was charged with the arson and is facing several other charges following his Jan. 12 court appearance. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
More charges for arson suspect

The Inuvik man charged in relation to the fire at Ryder Apartments… Continue reading

The grace period for the new Yukon lobbyist registry has come to an end and those who seek to influence politicians will now need to report their efforts to a public database. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Grace period for new lobbyist registry ends

So far nine lobbyists have registered their activities with politicians in the territory

Most Read