With speeds exceeding 240 kilometres an hour, the Alcan 200 Road Rally snowmobile race is not for the timid. But with minus 30 temperatures and strong crosswinds, the 43rd annual running of the event on Saturday called for particularly hardy sledders.
“There was quite a bit of frostbite with some of the racers there,” said Whitehorse’s Jarrid Davy, who got frostbite on his left hand. “One guy – I was going to give the guys from Fairbanks a call (to find out) – is going to lose two fingers, I’m guessing.”
While Alaskans made up the smaller-than-usual field of 25 sledders – with only 13 finishing – Davy was the day’s big winner. Not only did he finish first in the 651cc-open class, Davy produced the fastest time on the day, finishing in one hour, 33 minutes and 28 seconds. (Finishing second overall was Haines, Alaska’s, Chris Brooks in the 651cc-open class and in third was Fairbanks’ Greg Peede, who was fastest in the 551cc-650cc class.)
“I don’t know what the wind-chill was, but it’s 30-below and you’re doing 120 miles and hour, so it’s pretty severe,” said Davy. “There were times I was down to 45 miles an hour, in the crosswinds, then there were times I was getting up to 150 miles an hour.”
Averaging a speed of 160.1 kilometres an hour, which includes four mandatory fuel stops, Davy rode the snowmobile of Jason Adams, the manager/owner of Yukon Yamaha, who finished second overall last year.
“It was the only four-stroke in the race, and it’s turbo charged with 260 horse power, and it runs flawlessly,” said Davy. “That’s the great thing about it – an electric start – you just turn the key and go.”
Whitehorse’s Ross King was another Yukoner to reach the podium, taking second in the 441-550cc liquid class.
The race didn’t just mark his first Alcan in more than a decade, it marked his first encounter with frostbite, getting it on his nose, under his eyes and on the tips of his thumbs.
“The conditions were the worst I’ve ever seen in the years I’ve either raced in it or went to watch it,” said King. “It’s the first time I’ve ever got frostbite.”
Racing in his first ever Alcan, Whitehorse’s Dale Panchyshyn not only got through the race frostbite free, he took second in the 0-440cc liquid class.
“There wasn’t much you could do for it, it was so cold,” said Panchyshyn. “It was 30 below – plus we were trying to drive at 100 miles an hour. I don’t have any clothes that would have kept it right out, but I didn’t get frostbite thankfully.”
The race, which goes from the Canadian-US border near Haines, Alaska, 125 kilometres to the Dezadeash Lodge south of Haines Junction and back, presented some other challenges for the sledders and their teams.
While cold was in abundance, ironically, snow was not, impairing turning ability and putting additional wear and tear on the snowmobiles.
“The major problem with the race this year was there was no snow,” said Davy. “It was just about dry asphalt for 90 per cent of the race. It’s hard to steer; the ski uses a carbide runner to dig into the ice to help you turn, so they don’t do anything on asphalt.
“And there were a lot crosswinds at the same time, so it was very difficult to steer – especially up at the summit. I think a lot of people got blown right off the road.”
The Alcan race received more coverage than usual in 2009 when the race experienced its first fatality. Fairbank’s Jeffrey Peede, the brother of Saturday’s third-overall finisher, Greg Peede, died instantly early in the race when his snowmobile collided with a guardrail on the Three Guardsman Pass.
While the dangers of the race are never off the minds of the sledders, some areas seemed more perilous than others. Along Haines Summit, there are rows of vertical pipes in areas used
to guide snowplows after heavy downfalls. A collision with one would not end well for the sledder.
“These posts stick up vertically every hundred feet where there’s a chance the snow might be deep,” said Panchyshyn. “The faster you go, the faster those posts go by you. If you’re going fast enough and the wind tries to blow you off the road, there’s no way you’re going to miss one; you couldn’t steer quick enough to get in between.
“When I was done, that was as alive as I had felt in many years. It required your full attention.”
Because of the conditions – temperature, wind and snow coverage – no course records were broken in the race. In fact, two divisions only had lone finishers. In the 0-440cc fan class, Whitehorse’s Mario Poulin was the only of three riders to reach the finish line, in the process taking first.
“I’d like to tip my hat to all the mechanics and all the people who went to the halfway (point),” said Davy. “Those mechanics – I don’t know the exact temperature – were working out in minus-28 and they’re out there working in bare hands.
“So a lot of the credit goes to the teams and the mechanics that were wrenching for us.”
1st Jarrid Davy (Whitehorse)
2nd Chris Brooks (Haines)
3rd Danny Stenvik (Fairbanks)
551-650cc liquid class
1st Greg Peede (Fairbanks)
2nd Jack Smith Jr. (Haines)
3rd Randy Martin (Fairbanks)
441-550cc liquid class
1st Ron Stuvek (Fairbanks)
2nd Ross King (Whitehorse)
3rd Brian Stuvek (Fairbanks)
0-440cc liquid class
1st Paul Keech (Fairbanks)
2nd Dale Panchysuyn
3rd Gene Bloom (Fairbanks)
441-550cc fan class
1st John Martin (North Pole)
(No other finishers)
0-440cc fan class
1st Mario Poulin (Whitehorse)
(No other finishers)
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