For 36-year-old Jason Adams, the Alcan 200 is a race in a league all its own.
And he should know; the Whitehorse resident raced professionally for eight years.
“It’s a one of a kind in the world; there’s no other race like this,” said Adams. “I feel privileged to be a part of it. Even if you’ve been a professional rider for years, it’s still mindboggling.
“The only race similar to this would be the Baja 500 or the Baja 1000 down in Mexico – or the Dakar (rally).”
In the middle of last month at the Alcan 200, a snowmobile race from the Canadian-US boarder near Haines, Alaska, to the Dezadeash Lodge south of Haines Junction and back, Yukon sledders proved hard to catch, with four Whitehorse residents making the podium and two winning their class.
For Whitehorse’s Dev Hurlburt, winner of the open, 651 cc and up class, it was his best finish in 15 attempts.
“I raced it 14 other times and I think I got second four times and third three times,” said Hurlburt. “Finally, everything worked well. I owned the snowmobile for the last three years, but it was specifically prepared by the (Yukon) Yamaha dealer to participate in this event.
“I’ve had contending machines before, but never the ultimate.”
Making the difference for Hurlburt, and open-class second-place finisher Adams, who rode a very similar sled, were the turbo charged Yamahas, which increased the engine’s output to 295 horsepower from about 175 horsepower.
“That coupled with the fact it ran flawlessly; there was no burned belts, no broken wheels, no blown track, no worn off skis,” said Hurlburt. “Everything has to work together perfect to make it good.”
“(Yukon sledders) are always competitive – those boys from Alaska definitely know what they’re doing and have been successful – but I think the bar has been raised with these machines we’re running,” said Adams. “The turbo-charged, four strokes that you can get from Yamaha now, the reliability is there and it creates a whole new ball game.
“It really is a different type of race to run when you’re dealing with that kind of power. You have to be super focused because when you’re doing 150, 160 miles per hour and all of a sudden there’s three- or four-foot snowdrifts on the road – you have to be on your game.”
Other noteworthy performances by Yukoners were from Peter Jacobs, taking fourth in the 651 cc to open class, and Luc Gauvin, winning the 0 to 440 cc class.
With average speeds often reaching up towards 240-kilometres an hour, breakdowns are common enough to keep half the field from finishing the race most years.
This year, with snowy conditions preventing the sledders from really pushing their machines to the max, only eight sledders failed to reach the finish line.
“This year was a little different because there was a fair amount of snow at the one end,” said Hurlburt, who had an average speed of 170-kilometres an hour. “There was heavy snow and then there was drifting, so the overall speeds were down some because of the visibility and the snow cover on the road. That makes it so the machines hold together better because you can’t attain high speeds for long periods of time.
“With the snowmobile the dealership put together for me, I could reach high speeds very quickly. So having to slow down for snow covered drifts or snow-covered portions of the road, I was able to get up to high speeds quickly to make up for having to slow down.”
The Alcan 200 received more coverage than usual last year when the race experienced its first fatality in 41 years. Alaska’s Jeffrey Peede, 38, died instantly early in the race when his snowmobile collided with a guardrail on the Three Guardsman Pass.
The race had about a dozen fewer competitors entered than in 2009, but that had less to do with last year’s fatality than having to wait for the Yukon government to inform organizers whether the race will get the necessary road closures, said race organizer Karen Hess.
“I didn’t get that word from them until sometime in probably late October and some of these guys like to start getting their sleds ready late summer,” she said “We were not sure because of what happened last year. We jumped through all the hoops, but we didn’t get the word right away.
“So I think some of these guys decided to take a year off.”
However, last year’s open-class winner, Travis Adams, Jason’s brother, may have given entering a second thought after last year’s accident.
“Normally we run two separate machines,” said Jason Adams. “I think, in light of what happened last year, he wasn’t overly keen on doing it again.
“I don’t think it’s a final decision, he’s just taking a year off,” he said.
“It’s hard to come back to reality after doing something like that. The speeds were baffling and throwing extreme weather conditions into the mix, and the pressure of knowing there’s a competitor that is equal or better in terms of horsepower, it definitely plays a factor in your mind games.”
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