Although the iconic 1,000-mile Whitehorse to Fairbanks Yukon Quest route is not going forward this year, shorter races on both sides of the border are. The shorter dog sled races are both keeping past Quest champions on the sled and offering an introduction for newcomers to long-distance mushing.
On the Alaska side of the border, 200- and 350-mile races departed Fairbanks on Feb. 5.
Just over two days later, three-time Quest winner Brent Sass of Wild and Free Kennels was the first to cross the finish line. He was followed by Matt Hall then Deke Naaktgeboren and Jennifer Labar.
Dan Kaduce finished first in the parallel 200-mile race, a full two hours ahead of second-place Dylan Robins. Shaynee Traska picked up third place. Connor McMahon of Carcross finished seventh.
The dog mushing action will be moving into the Yukon later this month as two more long-distance races leave Whitehorse.
Mushers in the 100- and 300-mile Yukon Quest races will be departing on Feb. 19. The 300-mile racers will be off at 3 p.m. with those running the 100-mile route leaving half an hour later.
Late sign-ups for the races end on Feb. 12. As of Feb. 10, seven mushers had signed up for the 100 and 8 mushers had signed up for the 300. There is a $100 entry fee for the 100 and $500 for the 300. Purses for the two races total $40,000.
A purse of $5,000 is set aside for mushers in the 100-mile race with prizes paid out to the fifth-place finisher and better. The $35,000 purse for the 300 mile pays the top 10 finishers.
The mushers in the 100-mile race will go from Whitehorse to Braeburn while the 300-mile route will turn around north of Mandana Lake before heading back to Whitehorse.
“This is a good year to try and garner some more interest in long-distance and use these races as qualifiers for the 1000 mile that we’re hoping to bring back for 2023,” Yukon Quest executive director Bonnie Michaudville said of the shorter races.
The trail for the dog sled races follows some of the same route that the Yukon Arctic Ultra had to deviate from at the last minute due to severe overflow on frozen rivers. Michaudville said organizers are keeping a close eye on course conditions and have the ability to adapt to whatever conditions they encounter.
Although the 300-mile race may be shorter than the 1000-mile quest’s arduous full length, Michaudville said the mushers will have to be self-sufficient. She said the decision was made to stay out of the communities north of Mandana Lake citing COVID-19 concerns.
“In the past, you know, they were in the bush but the mandatory stops would or in the communities. So this time, some of the mandatory rest and stop is at a checkpoint on the Dawson trail and up at Mandana lake right. So their handlers aren’t going to be there to help them out with things and the teams,” Michaudville said.
“We are doing a food drop now up at Mandana Lake. We will provide straw and everything but it’s a little bit of a different race for them this year.”
Contact Jim Elliot at firstname.lastname@example.org