Record holder Gatt back for another go at Quest

Not only is he extremely well accomplished in the 1,600-kilometre race, and a little longer in the tooth than most of his competition, it seems each year after finishing the race he says he's retiring from it.

Whitehorse’s Hans Gatt is the Brett Favre of the Yukon Quest.

Not only is he extremely well accomplished in the 1,600-kilometre race, and a little longer in the tooth than most of his competition, it seems each year after finishing the race he says he’s retiring from it.

However, the four-time Austrian-born champion, who last year set a new race record of nine days, zero hours and 26 minutes, beating 2009’s record run by Sebastian Schnuelle by 23 hours and 54 minutes, is back to defend his title.

“Last year when I finished the race, I had this race in Wyoming in my mind, so that’s what I was going to do this year,” said Gatt. “But then things changed with my sponsorship – Eagle Pack (Natural Pet Foods) started sponsoring the Iditarod this year, so we had to go back and focus on long-distance races again. That kind of changed everything.

“I had to focus on the Iditarod, which meant I couldn’t go down to the states. They have different race formats and you have to train your dogs differently.

“So I thought, I might as well sign up for the Quest again.”

Gatt, 52, one of only three Yukoners in the field of 25 mushers, won his first Quest title – the first of three in a row – in 2002. He finished second in 2006 and 2007.

Alaska’s Lance Mackey, the only other musher to win the Quest four times, is not entered in this year’s race. But it doesn’t sound like Gatt is missing the rivalry.

“It doesn’t matter to me one bit. I showed last year that I can beat him,” said Gatt. “We had a great race last year. If he was here, that would be good, but it doesn’t matter to me. There’s plenty of stiff competition here.

“Traditionally the race has always been faster from Whitehorse to Fairbanks, however, last year we turned that completely upside down. It always takes perfect conditions to set new records, but I don’t know if we can get close to the time we set last year.”

Taking on the four-time champ is fellow Yukoner Michelle Phillips, 42, from Tagish.

“I’m looking forward to it, I have a solid team, a lot of veterans,” said Phillips. “It’s been a good snow year, it’ll be a nice trail. You always worry about overflow, but the temperature is supposed to drop, so that looks favourable.

“Overflow is when it comes up through the cracks and it can be bad sometimes. You can be up to waist in water.

“I like going from Whitehorse to Fairbanks; I like that direction,” she added.

A four-time participant in the Quest, Phillips’ best results are fourth in 2008 in and fifth in 2009. She skipped last year’s race to try her hand in the Iditarod, coming in 27th out of 71 teams.

“They’re pretty expensive (races), so I decided to focus on the Iditarod – it was my rookie year and I wanted to check it out,” said Phillips. “I made some wrong moves as far as strategy went.”

Whitehorse’s Didier Moggia is going for his third Quest attempt, not finishing in 2008 or the following year. In 2009, Moggia, 50, withdrew from the race in Dawson, having started the race while ill.

“In 2009 I was sick when I started and I made a lot of mistakes, and I was very, very tired when I arrived in Dawson,” said Moggia. “I had diarrhea and that’s trouble. So I decided to try again and see what happens.

“Diarrhea on the trail is so bad.”

Moggia has competed in – and finished – the Quest 300 race in 2006 and last year’s Tustumena 200 in Anchorage, Alaska.

“Every time I try the Quest I make a mistake, so I need to make some corrections,” he added.

Back for his 11th run in the Quest is Hugh Neff, a quasi-Yukoner who splits his time between Tok, Alaska, and the Annie Lake area.

“My girlfriend has a place out there and I do a lot of training there,” said Neff of Annie Lake. “For me, I’m not a Yukon musher or an Alaska musher, I’m a Quest musher. I do a lot of racing, but the Quest will always be No. 1 in my heart.”

Over his Quest career, Neff, 43, had his best result in 2009, finishing second. He also was third last year and in 2005. (Last year he finished third in the Iditarod.)

Though always a strong contender, Neff isn’t concerned with being the first over the finish line.

“I’m not too worried about it,” he said. “I have a great dog team and you do as well as your dogs can do. But if the magic is there anything is possible. I don’t focus on winning a race, I just enjoy life and the opportunity we have every year to do what we love so much. Win or lose, I’m always having fun and that’s what’s important to me.”

The 28th annual Yukon Quest Sled Dog Race will kick off Saturday at Shipyards Park in Whitehorse. The first musher will leave the start line at 11 a.m.

Contact Tom Patrick at

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