Rob Cooke was the first musher to sign up for the 2020 Yukon Quest in Whitehorse on Aug. 3. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News)

Mushers start signing up for the 2020 Yukon Quest

Ten mushers have already put their names down to do the full length

The field for the 37th Yukon Quest 1,000 Mile International Sled Dog Race has started to take shape.

Aug. 3 was the official sign up day for the race, which starts Feb. 1, 2020, with a total of 10 mushers signing up either in-person in Whitehorse or Fairbanks, Alaska, or via mail or proxy.

The 10 mushers set to run the full 1,600-kilometre race includes eight veterans. Yukoner Rob Cooke and 2019 winner Brent Sass highlight the field that also includes Richie Beattie, Dave Dalton, Torsten Kohnert, Cody Strathe, Ryne Olson and Canadian Denis Tremblay.

Mendenhall’s Lori and Louve Tweddell, daughters of three-time Quest finisher Luc Tweddell, are the only rookies in the field so far.

“The biggest tip we got was don’t do it,” said Lori about what kind of advice she and her sister had gotten from dad. “He’s helped us a lot along the way. Everything we do and what we’ve learned is from him. We’re pretty much the image of what he was, but there are two of us.”

Running the Yukon Quest is something Louve said she’s wanted to do since Luc finished the Quest for the first time in 2009.

“Afterwards it was like, ‘Oh my god. It looks like so much fun. I want to do that when I’m older,” said Louve.

The two mushers started the qualification process for the race last winter, racing the Percy de Wolfe Memorial Mail Race and the Yukon Quest 300, and will finish the process with this season’s Copper Basin.

Neither musher has started training for the upcoming season yet.

Training was supposed to start last week, but the wait for colder weather continues.

At least one Yukon musher, however, has started preparing for the season.

Cooke said he and his team started training three or four weeks ago.

“Knowing we were going to sign up today — that’s what really motivated us to get out training,” said Cooke, explaining he’s been up at 4 a.m. to train when temperatures are the coolest.

“I decided about three months ago that we were going to do it again. The pain from last year had gone,” said Cooke with a chuckle.

At the end of last year’s race, Cooke announced the retirement of his main group of dogs — the Crazies litter — but he said they’ve been impressive thus far in training and some of the five could end up on the team yet.

“Two in particular are just super focused at the moment,” said Cooke, adding four of the five are training. “I’ll keep training them into the winter and we’ll see. I think it’s going to be when the runs start getting longer and we start doing more and more miles, maybe that’s when their age is going to show.”

The field for the Yukon Quest 300 also started to shape up, with 10 mushers registered including 2019 Quest finishers Nathaniel Hamlyn and Misha Wiljes.

Hamlyn’s father, Paul Hamlyn, is also signed up for the 300.

Nathaniel said his dogs are at Caribou Crossing currently, working their summer job.

“They pull carts all summer with tourists,” said Nathaniel. “They’ve been in shape, they’ve remained in shape and I’ll get them back probably … the middle of September and I’ll start training them a little bit harder.”

Running the 300 rather than the 1,000 was the result of a number of things, Nathaniel said.

Costs are always a factor, as are the time requirements. Nathaniel’s wife, Annika, is also mushing this winter.

“She’ll be training a lot this winter and she’ll be doing some races,” said Nathaniel. “We’re kind of splitting (the kennel) up and doing more events.”

Although a relatively small day-one field, registration is open for mushers until Nov. 29 and late applications will be accepted until Jan. 3, 2020.

Some of the names from last year’s top 10 who have not yet registered include Hans Gatt, Allen Moore, Michelle Phillips, Matt Hall and Paige Drobny.

Last year’s race included 30 mushers, with 27 reaching the finish in Fairbanks.

The Yukon Quest starts Feb. 1, 2020, in Fairbanks, Alaska. This year’s prize pool includes a guaranteed minimum purse of US$100,000, as announced by the race organizers on July 24.

Contact John Hopkins-Hill at john.hopkinshill@yukon-news.com

Yukon Quest 1,000 Mile International Sled Dog Race roster

1. Rob Cooke

2. Brent Sass

3. Lori Tweddell

4. Richie Beattie

5. Louve Tweddell

6. Dave Dalton

7. Torsten Kohnert

8. Cody Strathe

9. Ryne Olson

10. Denis Tremblay

Yukon Quest 300 roster

1. J Jay Levy

2. Nathaniel Hamlyn

3. Will Troshynski

4. Vickie Justice

5. Dave Turner

6. Paul Hamlyn

7. Kelby Dillon

8. Misha Wiljes

9. Lauro Eklund

10. Jennifer LaBar

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Raelene Paul and Keva demonstrate dog puller at Barkfest as part of the official sign up day. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News)

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