All eyes will be on Fairbanks Feb. 3 for the start of the Yukon Quest as 26 mushers set out with their dog teams for Whitehorse.
A total of 30 mushers signed up to enter this year’s race — more than in recent years.
Natalie Haltrich, executive director for Yukon Quest International Association Canada, said that number is above average.
“We haven’t reached that number in a few years,” said Haltrich. “We have had four withdraw prior to the start for various personal reasons.”
Haltrich added organizers are expecting the 26 remaining mushers to be at the starting line for the 1,000-mile race.
The field is made up of six Canadians, 16 Americans, two Germans and a Swede. Eleven of the entrants are rookies — mushers who are either first-time entrants or have never finished the Quest — and 15 are veterans with at least one finish.
Some of the familiar faces include 2017 winner Matt Hall, 2017 runner-up and two-time winner Hugh Neff, and 2017 third-place finisher and two-time winner Allen Moore.
Other names to keep in mind during the race include Yukoners Luc Tweddell, Nathaniel Hamlyn, Ed Hopkins and Rob Cooke.
Mark Stamm of Riverside, Washington, is likely the musher with the longest gap between appearances. He completed the Quest in 1988 and had not entered since.
With the start just around the corner, snow conditions are better than average on the Alaskan half of the trail.
“Our operations manager on the Alaskan side … said from what he’s read, from talking to his people and what he knows from historical trails, this is one of the better Alaskan trails in terms of snow,” said Haltrich.
Some icy slopes near the end of the course mean that the Yukon trail will closely resemble the original route.
“It’s the trail we ran for the first 10 years of the race — over Lake Laberge — and that was done to minimize risk and for some safety concerns,” said Haltrich. “You talk about 35 years — and of course this wasn’t planned — but here we are throwing it back to the old school ways of running the race along Lake Laberge.”
Also new this year is the Yukon Quest for Learning program, designed to help teachers use the Quest as a teaching opportunity.
“The intent there is to connect directly to these students to get them interested in the North, interested in the race, and learning as they’re connecting,” said Haltrich.
The Yukon Quest is working with the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre on a surprise 35th-year project that will be revealed at the end of race banquet.
Contact John Hopkins-Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org
Yukon Quest 1,000-mile mushers
1 Rob Cooke, U.K./Canadian – Veteran
2 Hugh Neff, American – Veteran
3 Luc Tweddell, Canadian – Veteran
4 Paige Drobny, American – Veteran
5 Christine Roalofs, American – Rookie
6 Nathaniel Hamlyn, Canadian – Rookie
7 Claudia Wickert, German – Rookie
8 Riley Dyche, American – Rookie
9 Allen Moore, American – Veteran
10 Torsten Kohnert, Swedish – Veteran
11 Matt Hall, American – Veteran
12 Ryne Olson, American – Veteran
13 Bernhard Schuchert, German – Rookie
14 Jason Campeau, Canadian – Veteran
15 Jennifer Campeau, Canadian – Rookie
16 Alex Buetow, American – Rookie
17 Mark Stamm, American – Veteran
18 Ed Hopkins, Canadian – Veteran
19 Tim Pappas, American – Rookie
20 Dave Dalton, American – Veteran
21 Severin Cathry, Swiss – Rookie
22 Laura Neese, American – Veteran
23 Mike Ellis, American – Veteran
24 Ike Underwood, American – Rookie
25 Vebjorn Aishana Reitan, American – Rookie
26 Katherine Keith, American – Veteran