Sass and Phillips first Quest mushers into Dawson City

Brent Sass shares a moment with some of his dogs after reaching the Dawson City checkpoint on Feb. 6 during the 2020 Yukon Quest. Sass was the first musher to Dawson, arriving at 5:43 a.m. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News)
Tagish’s Michelle Phillips interacts with her dogs at the Dawson City checkpoint on Feb. 6 during the 2020 Yukon Quest. Phillips was the second musher to arrive in Dawson, reaching the checkpoint at 6:54 a.m. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News)
Some of Brent Sass’s dogs lick each other’s faces at the Dawson City checkpoint on Feb. 6 during the 2020 Yukon Quest. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News)
One of Brent Sass’s dogs takes a moment to lie down at the Dawson City checkpoint on Feb. 6 during the 2020 Yukon Quest. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News)
Michelle Phillips leaves the Dawson City checkpoint for the dog yard on Feb. 6 during the 2020 Yukon Quest. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News)

DAWSON CITY

2019 Yukon Quest winner Brent Sass was the first musher to arrive at the Dawson City checkpoint during this year’s Yukon Quest 1,000 Mile International Sled Dog Race.

The veteran musher from Eureka, Alaska, reached the checkpoint at 5:43 a.m. on Feb. 6 with 12 dogs on the line and temperatures hovering around -15 C.

“It’s always fun to be back in Dawson,” said Sass. “The dogs did really well. The trail has been a Quest trail — lots of breaking trail, lots of blown-in trail — and the dogs have done a really good job.”

Sass said he didn’t have any particular issues on American Summit, the third of four major peaks teams must climb during the race.

“It was easy,” said Sass. “It was some sidehill and it was windy, but we didn’t have any issue at all with the dogs. … I actually was waiting for the tough stuff and then we came around and we were already going downhill. I was like, ‘Oh, I guess we went through the tough stuff.’”

He said he had the chance to try some different combinations of dogs up front, and that his team has plenty of lead dog potential.

“I just experimented with a bunch of different leaders,” said Sass, pointing out his dog Woody, who led Sass into the checkpoint, was leading in a race for the first time. “He did amazing. That was really fun to see. He led us into here. (There are) a few new stars on the team for sure.”

Sass said the first thing he’ll be doing in Dawson is getting some food and getting ready for the second half of the race and the finish in Whitehorse.

“I’ve got a really amazing crew here to work on the dogs,” said Sass. “I’m just thinking about the second half already.”

Mushers have a mandatory 36-hour layover in Dawson before they can continue the race.

The earliest Sass will be able to depart is 5:43 p.m. on Feb. 7.

Sass is also eligible for the Dawson Award, two ounces of Klondike placer gold given to the first musher into Dawson City who completes the race. Sass has won that award three times, including last year.

Tagish’s Michelle Phillips was the next musher into the checkpoint, arriving at 6:54 a.m.

She said the run in from Eagle, Alaska, went well.

“I’m feeling pretty good,” said Phillips. “It was a lot better than I expected on American Summit. I expected it to be more windy. … It was blowing a bit on the river here — the trail was a little slow, but pretty good.”

Her team had to break quite a bit of trail, she said, thanks to the snow and wind.

“Pretty much leaving Circle to Eagle there was a lot of snow, a lot of wind,” said Phillips. “Quite a few windstorms and the dogs had to break trail a lot.”

She said a couple of her dogs stood out during those trying stretches — Mac and Dragon.

“They were excellent,” said Phillips. “In some of those windstorms they did a great job. … The whole team just did wonderful.”

Phillips arrived with 12 dogs after having dropped one, Zeppelin, in Eagle.

“He got a little sick earlier on, so he was a little thin,” said Phillips. “I was concerned about him being too thin so I just dropped him. He’s young and thin, so I didn’t think he needed to keep going.”

She said the first thing on her to do list after getting her team situated in the dog yard is to drink a beer.

“I’m glad I’m in the Yukon and looking forward to heading home,” said Phillips.

As of 8:45 a.m., Cody Strathe and Allen Moore are on the trail from the Clinton Creek hospitality stop to Dawson and are expected to arrive this morning.

Further back on the trail, Ryne Olson and Torsten Kohnert are resting at Clinton Creek.

Nora Sjalin, Rob Cooke, Pat Noddin, Richie Beattie and Chase Tingle have all left Eagle and are spread out on the trail between Eagle and Clinton Creek.

Dave Dalton and Olivia Webster are resting at the Eagle checkpoint.

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

Yukon Quest

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