On June 10, the Joint Board of Directors of the Yukon Quest decided the 39th running of the international dog sled race would be two races — one in Canada and one in Alaska.
The first race will be on Feb. 5, 2022, starting in Fairbanks. The Yukon race starting on Feb. 19 will follow the traditional YQ 300 route and will start in Whitehorse.
The 2021 race was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Alaska side did hold a 300-mile event called “The Summit Quest”.
Guessing when the U.S./Canada border would reopen wasn’t the top-of-mind issue when deciding to hold two races. Instead, the decision was made based on musher feedback, said Bonnie Michaudville, executive director on the Canadian side.
“The numbers have been falling off a little bit,” said Michaudville. “Our musher rep created a really good survey that went out to mushers, past, present Alaska and Canada.
“We had 108 responses which is really good. It’s a race for the mushers so you need their input.”
From the survey responses, several mushers indicated they’d still like to run 1,000 miles in 2022. However, of those who wanted to run the full distance, only a small number were qualified to do 1,000 miles.
To be eligible to race 1,000 miles, mushers must complete a 300-mile event that’s recognized by the Yukon Quest.
Many mushers, Michaudville said, have been impacted by COVID-19 and couldn’t afford to run the race and keep their kennels going.
When the mushers were asked about doing 300-mile races Michaudville said the response “was high”.
“So the writing was on the wall,” said Michaudville. “Once everyone recoups a little bit, the 1,000 miles is back on the table for 2023.”
Michaudville said both boards want the 1,000-mile race back, but there needs to be a certain amount of mushers to do the full race.
“If they aren’t just there because of COVID or the economic impact then we need to engage more mushers and bring the Quest back again,” said Michaudville.
In 2020, the last time the full 1,000 was run, only 15 mushers left the start chute.
Michaudville said the Quest will continue to grow, and that might look different.
“It will never be quite the same,” said Michaudville. “That’s life and change happens. It will evolve into something different and even if it’s still 1,000 it won’t look like it did in 1984.”
The races are being held two weeks apart to allow mushers to run both if they choose. There are still details to be worked out, like whether a point system will be introduced for mushers who run both races.
The idea of 100-mile races to accompany the longer ones has also been floated. The Alaskan race has yet to determine its length.
Contact John Tonin at email@example.com