No one is caught off guard when sleds are approaching the finish line at the Alcan 200 International Snow Machine Road Rally.
The roar of the engines can be heard a kilometre away, before the snowmobiles are in sight. It almost sounds like a single-engine aircraft coming over the horizon, and racers are just as fast, reaching speeds of well over 200 kilometres an hour.
Most people would never consider riding a snowmobile at such speeds. Whitehorse’s Justin Peterson is not one of them.
Peterson took first place in the 0-440cc liquid class of the 44th annual race on Saturday. He completed the 250-kilometre course from the Canada-U.S. border outside of Haines, Alaska, to Dezadeash Lake and back in one hour, 40 minutes and 17 seconds.
Riding a 2003 Arctic Cat 440cc Sno Pro, Peterson had an average speed of 149 kilometres per hour on the Haines Highway course.
“It’s one of the fastest machines and that’s what got me the win,” said Peterson.
It was Peterson’s third time in the race and his first win, placing second in the same division last year and fourth in 2011. He was the only Yukoner to win a division this year, down from four in 2012.
“I missed a fuel stop two years ago and I missed a fuel stop again last year and this year I ran pretty flawless and placed first,” said Peterson. “I was very happy.”
Average speeds include three mandatory fuel stops. If you’re not prepared for the fuel stops, “You end up sliding way past it,” said Peterson. “You have to run to the fuel can, get the can, run back, touch the fuel can to your machine – you don’t have to fuel up, just touch the fuel can to your machine – and then go back to your machine and keep racing.
“It takes quite a while and it’s really hard to breathe with all that gear on … It’s quite a penalty when you miss those.”
Peterson’s brother Nathan, also of Whitehorse, took third in the 441-550cc liquid class for the second year in a row.
Nathan was part of his brother’s pit crew in 2011. After seeing the race first-hand, he decided to go for it himself.
“A friend had a snowmobile for sale and I bought it from him,” said Nathan. “It was kind of race-ready.
“I have to do a little more fine tuning for next year, get everything dialed in a little closer.”
Nathan finished the race in 1:34:59 with an average speed of 157 kilometres an hour on his Polaris 500.
“It would have been nice to go a little bit faster, but I did what I could,” said Nathan.
“Last year was pretty miserable: high winds and lots of asphalt on the road,” he added. “(Exposed pavement is) tough for steering – makes it a lot more dangerous.
“It was a pretty safe race this year, even though it was faster.”
Whitehorse’s Cory Magnuson hoped to simply finish the race. He did that and more.
Magnuson rode his 2007 Polaris 500 to second place in the 441-550cc liquid class, just 30 seconds up from Nathan.
“I made it to the end,” said Magnuson. “I was just hoping to finish. All the veterans told me if you finish your first year, you’re doing really well. Placing was just a heck of a bonus.
“That was my first snowmobile race,” added the 26-year-old. “I’m an avid snowmobiler and a fan of the race for my whole life and I finally got a chance to race it.”
Magnuson completed the race, which is considered to be the longest snowmobile road race in North America, with an average speed of 158 kilometres an hour.
He plans to enter next year’s race. “I’m hooked now,” said Magnuson. “I’ll be back for sure.”
Whitehorse’s Mario Poulin is a common fixture in the Alcan 200. So is his sled. The two have been racing the Alcan before Magnuson was born.
Poulin rode his 1980 Polaris TX 440cc to second place in the 0-440cc fan class, finishing in 1:47:54.
“I bought it brand new,” said Poulin of his machine. “I’ve run it in the Alcan 24, 25 years.”
Poulin has won the division the previous two years. This year he was behind North Pole, Alaska’s Davies Tester, who finished behind Poulin last year.
He has often won the Oldest Sled award in the Alcan. But this year the honour went to Haines, Alaska’s George Campbell with his 1972 Ski-Doo.
So how does a 33-year-old sled reach the finish line when seven of the 22 sleds in this year’s race didn’t? Only 16 sleds reached the turnaround point at Dezadeash Lake.
“I’m a mechanic,” said Poulin. “It’s more of a mechanic’s race than a driver’s race.
“If you finish, you usually place.”
This year’s Alcan, which had six less entries than last year, was the first with no entries in the 651cc-open class.
Also missing was representation from Yukon Yamaha, which entered the overall winning teams the last four years. Yukon Yamaha’s absence was caused by a mixture of waiting for parts and availability of crew.
“We virtually couldn’t get anyone to go,” said Jason Adams, president of Yukon Yamaha. “We were having trouble putting a team together and having trouble getting parts.”
Whitehorse’s Jarrid Davy won his second straight title in the 651cc-open class and was the fastest overall on a monster sled from Yukon Yamaha last year. His average speed: 191 kilometres an hour.
“We fully intend to do it again,” said Adams. “We want to make a run at the overall record – the time record and the speed record.”
551-650cc liquid class
1st Greg Peede (Fairbanks) – 1:29:01
2nd Mike Ward (Haines) – 1:32:04
3rd John Holms (Juneau) – 1:37:53
441-550cc liquid class
1st Steve Cornwall (Fairbanks) – 1:31:55
2nd Cory Magnuson (Whitehorse) – 1:34:29
3rd Nathan Peterson (Whitehorse) – 1:34:59
0-440cc liquid class
1st Justin Peterson (Whitehorse) – 1:40:17
2nd Gene Bloom (Fairbanks) – 2:08:38
441cc-open fan class
1st Randy Wood (Fairbanks) – 2:01:24
0-440cc fan class
1st Davies Tester (North Pole) – 1:44:19
2nd Mario Poulin (Whitehorse) – 1:47:54
3rd George Campbell (Haines) – 2:08:35
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