The 39th running of the Yukon Quest international dog sled race will be two races instead of one next year — 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, although the Alaska side did hold a 300-mile Summit Quest event.
Guessing when the US/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, says Bonnie Michaudville, executive director on the Canadian side.
“The numbers have been falling off a little bit,” Michaudville says. “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 says, have been impacted by COVID-19 and couldn’t afford to run the race and keep their kennels going. But when the mushers were asked about doing 300-mile races, the response “was high.”
“So the writing was on the wall,” Michaudville says. “Once everyone recoups a little bit, the 1,000 miles is back on the table for 2023.”
Michaudville says 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.”
In 2020, the last time the full 1,000 was run, only 15 mushers left the start chute.
Michaudville says the Quest will continue to grow, and that might look different.
“It will never be quite the same,” Michaudville says. “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.
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