A schism between Yukon Quest race organizers on the Alaskan and Yukon sides of the border seems poised to alter or completely cancel the dog sled race from Whitehorse to Fairbanks.
The disagreement began over the proposed rules for mandatory rest periods during the 2023 race.
The Board of Directors for Yukon Quest International Ltd. (YQIL), the governing body for the border-spanning race on the Alaska side, issued a notice on May 2 stating that there would be governance changes for the race amid conflict with the organizers on the Yukon side.
Susie Rogan, the president of the Yukon Quest International Association (YQIA) board that organizes things in Canada, said the Alaskans’ stance came as a surprise. She noted the statement that went out to media and mushers was not communicated to the Yukon organizers and she said she only became aware of it when a Fairbanks newspaper called her for comment.
Organizers on both sides of the border stated that it was a disagreement over increasing mandatory rest periods for mushers and their dogs but offered differing accounts of the nature of the disagreement at the April 29 meeting between the executives of both boards.
Mark Weber, vice president of the organizing board on the Alaskan side, said an increase in mandatory rest from 52 to 120 hours over the course of the gruelling race was proposed by the Yukon board. He was left with the impression that the Yukoners wanted the changes made without going through the race’s typical rules committee process and that they would not financially support the 1,000-mile race without the new rules in place.
The Canadian-side Quest board disagreed with that assessment in a May 3 press release. It says it agreed to hold the 2023 race using 2020 rules at an April 29 meeting.
The Yukon board says they requested information tracking on dog health in this upcoming race, but acceptance of the rest period requests was not a requirement for the Alaskan board to join the 2023 race.
Both sides expressed feelings of being caught off guard by the others’ response.
The two boards are not on the same page when it comes to the effects the proposed rule changes might have on the character of the Yukon Quest.
The May 2 statement from the Alaskans says their board believes the rule changes would fundamentally alter the principles of the race and alter its mission of challenging the bush skills, dog care and training abilities of traditional arctic mushers.
Rogan said the Yukon Quest, and dog mushing as a whole, are dynamic and must be able to make changes to ensure fair competition and the welfare of the dogs. She noted that the shorter Yukon Quest races held in the Yukon this past February had significant mandatory rest built into them. Rogan said some mushers were unhappy with the compulsory stops and found that it interfered with their race strategy, but the head veterinarian’s report on those races stated it had been good for the dogs and there was nearly no need for veterinary intervention.
According to Rogan, the proposed rule changes came in response to tactics that saw some mushers resting their teams less than was common in the past. Historically, six hour runs followed by six hour rests had been the gold standard for dog care and competitiveness. Rogan said along with protecting dogs, the mandatory rest would improve the competitive chances of mushers who are cautious about overrunning their teams.
Weber, involved with the Quest since its inception in 1984, said he is devastated by recent developments and hopes that the cross-border race isn’t dead. He said the Alaska board still wants to host the 1,000-mile race and a 300-mile qualifier as planned but noted there are tight timelines and decisions regarding checkpoints and logistics that must be made well in advance.
Rogan said she doesn’t know what will happen in the future but thinks that a joint race with the Alaska board is off the table at this point.
The May 2 statement from the Alaska board says details about races in Alaska will be forthcoming. The Yukon board is planning 100-, 250- and 450-mile races that will all leave Whitehorse on Feb. 18, 2023. The route will follow the traditional Yukon Quest trail that passes through Braeburn, Carmacks and Pelly Crossing on its way up to Dawson City.
While the Yukon board was disappointed and surprised by the breakdown of relations with Alaska, Rogan said they also feel energized with the free reign to evolve the race as they see fit. She mentioned a 1,000-miler all on the Yukon side of the border as a possibility for the future.
If the Yukon and Alaska organizers were on the same page about anything, it was their commitment to continue offering races for mushers, their teams and the worldwide community of dog mushing fans.
Contact Jim Elliot at firstname.lastname@example.org