All 15 of the mushers set to hit the trail for the 37th Yukon Quest 1,000-Mile International Sled Dog Race gathered at the Westmark Fairbanks Hotel and Conference Center in Fairbanks, Alaska, for the Start and Draw Banquet on Jan. 30 together with handlers, race volunteers, sponsors and fans as the race start looms on the horizon.
The race starts in downtown Fairbanks at 11 a.m. local time, noon in the Yukon, on Feb. 1 as mushers begin the 1,000-mile (1,600-kilometre) journey to Whitehorse.
This year’s field of just 15 is perhaps the smallest ever — 11 mushers completed the 2006 race, but information on scratches and withdrawals is not listed for that year on the race’s website — meaning all finishers will receive a portion of the guaranteed minimum race purse of US$100,000. This year’s winner is guaranteed US$18,930.
Each team must start the race with between eight and 14 dogs, finish with at least six dogs, and must use only one sled for the entire race.
Mushers drew numbers from a boot to determine both their bib number and start order for the race.
Selecting in order of race signup, Mount Lorne’s Rob Cooke was first to select and will start 12th.
“This has been a particularly challenging year for the Yukon Quest,” said Cooke. “I did wonder earlier in the year if the race was actually going to happen, so it’s a great relief that we’re still here.”
2019 Yukon Quest winner Brent Sass was next to draw, and will be the last to start the race after drawing number 15.
Richie Beattie, who is running the Quest again after last finishing in 2007, drew bib number one and will be the first musher on the trail.
Michelle Phillips of 10 Mile will start 11th this year after finishing fouth last year.
Phillips took the opportunity to joke with the crowd.
“It’s so nice to be here again. I just love the trail so much, and I love my dogs, and I love all of you that we see out there,” said Phillips. “I don’t always appear to love you, but I do… afterwards.”
Three-time winner Allen Moore, who finished just over an hour ahead of Phillips last year in third place, will start fourth this year.
Canadians Jason Campeau and Denis Tremblay will bracket Moore, starting third and fifth respectively.
Another Canadian, Pat Noddin, will start 13th.
|American musher Andrew Pace and his sled dog team get ready at the start line for the Yukon Quest at Shipyards Park in Whitehorse on Feb. 2, 2019. The 2020 race starts in downtown Fairbanks at 11 a.m. local time, noon in the Yukon, on Feb. 1 as mushers begin the 1,000-mile (1,600-kilometre) journey to Whitehorse. (Crystal Schick/CP)|
Earlier in the day on Jan. 30, mushers received a trail report from Mike Reitz, the trail coordinator for the Alaskan half of the trail.
Reitz told mushers the trail is in fine shape this year with good snow coverage, very little overflow and virtually no jumble ice. Reitz cautioned mushers to keep an eye out for moose and caribou after trailbreakers noted high levels of activity in some areas.
Mushers will be updated on trail conditions on the Canadian side once they reach Dawson City.
Given the warm temperatures in the Whitehorse area over the last week, it’s likely teams will have significant overflow — liquid water on top of frozen rivers and other bodies of water.
From Fairbanks, teams head approximately 120 km to the race’s first checkpoint in Two Rivers, Alaska.
It is then another 66 km to Mile 101, the next checkpoint. On the stretch between Two Rivers and Mile 101, mushers must guide their teams over Rosebud Summit — the first of four major summits along the trail — requiring climbing from approximately 228 metres to 1,110 m.
Once mushers reach Mile 101, they have the option of taking a mandatory four-hour layover there or pushing on another 45 km to Central, Alaska, where they would then have to take the four-hour stop.
The start differentials for each musher will be applied at whichever of the two checkpoints the musher chooses to rest at.
With Eagle Summit between those two checkpoints though, most will rest before tackling the climb back up to 1,123 m and the rapid descent to 285 m.
Teams will leave from Central headed approximately 120 km to Circle City, Alaska, the last checkpoint on the Alaskan road network.
From Circle, teams face the task of covering 96 km to the Slaven’s Roadhouse dog drop and then another 160 km to Eagle, Alaska.
In Eagle, teams again face a mandatory layover of four hours before continuing 240 km to Dawson City — a leg of the race that includes American Summit, a 1,042 m peak, and an international border crossing back into the Yukon.
Once mushers clear customs and reach Dawson, it’s 36 hours of rest and recuperation for both musher and dog in preparation for the second half of the race.
Teams leave Dawson headed for Pelly Crossing — the next checkpoint — via the Scroggie Creek dog drop, a total distance of approximately 335 km. Along the way, teams tackle the final summit — King Solomon’s Dome.
From Pelly Crossing it is 118 km to the next checkpoint in Carmacks and another 125 km to the final checkpoint in Braeburn.
The final mandatory layover of the race is in Braeburn, where teams must wait eight hours before the final 160-km stretch into Whitehorse.
The Yukon Quest 300 — a 480-km race that serves as a qualifier for the 1,000 — is also starting on Feb. 1, with the first of 19 mushers in that race set to hit the trail at 3 p.m. local time and racing as far as Circle, Alaska.
The 300 field includes, among others, Nathaniel Hamlyn, a two-time Yukon Quest finisher from Mount Lorne; Whitehorse’s Claudia Wickert, a Yukon Quest 300 veteran; and American Madeline Rubida, a Yukon Quest 300 veteran running a team of dogs from Tagish Lake Kennel.
Contact John Hopkins-Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org
2020 Yukon Quest start order
1 Richie Beattie
2 Cody Strathe
3 Jason Campeau
4 Allen Moore
5 Denis Tremblay
6 Nora Själin
7 Olivia Webster
8 Ryne Olson
9 Torsten Kohnert
10 Dave Dalton
11 Michelle Phillips
12 Rob Cooke
13 Pat Noddin
14 Chase Tingle
15 Brent Sass