The 26 Yukon Quest mushers and their dogs will have a slightly easier and shorter race this year thanks to a last-minute route change.
The new trail will avoid the treacherous American Summit near the border. Instead, the teams will proceed along the Yukon River between Dawson City and Eagle, Alaska.
The decision was made because of the harsh conditions on that part of the route, said Doug Grilliot, race marshal for the Quest, by phone from Pelly Crossing.
“They had so much snow up on top of the summit, and with the winds they’ve had in the last few days, it’s made the conditions completely impassable for snow machines and by extension, the sled-dog teams.”
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The change will shave about 80 kilometres off the total race length.
The re-route will remove one of the more significant obstacles facing the dog teams, said Grilliot.
“It’s basically taking out a very challenging portion of the race, with the climb and the conditions they generally can experience up on American Summit, and replacing that with a very flat, 100-mile river run.”
But sticking to the river can present its own challenges.
A second minor route change was made near Pelly Crossing because of severe overflow conditions on that stretch of the Yukon River.
“There’s a lot of water on the ice, up to almost knee-deep in places,” said Grilliot.
Instead of following the river out of Pelly, mushers will take their dogs down the road towards Pelly Farm. The change has little effect of the total race distance.
The 1,600-kilometre race from Whitehorse to Fairbanks, Alaska, has been going very well since it began on Saturday, said Grilliot.
“We’re really happy with the performance of everyone so far,” he said. “The dog teams are looking very good.”
Alaska’s Hugh Neff, last year’s champion, was in the lead as of Monday morning.
Yukon’s leading teams are Normand Casavant and Susan Rogan, currently in seventh and eighth place. They checked in at Pelly Crossing only minutes apart at around 10:30 this morning.
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