Race season is in full swing, with the conclusion of the 2019 Kuskokwim 300 and several sled dog races set to take place all over the state of Alaska. That includes the first international race of 2019, the Yukon Quest, but this year’s trail will look a little different than it has in years passed.
According to a statement from the Yukon Quest — the 1,000-mile race from Whitehorse, Yukon Territories, to Fairbanks — there have been reports of difficult trail conditions in certain places. Returning race manager Doug Harris says reports from trappers near Whitehorse confirm there’s a lack of snow:
“Kind of, like, just bare ground out in the bush area, and the hills were like that. It’s just not worth putting the teams through there, with that kind of trail. And then, once we get to Carmacks, the concern we have there is the river ice.”
The portion of the trail in question stretches from Braeburn to Carmacks. The Quest will allow mushers to run the first 100 miles of the race with anywhere between eight to 14 dogs, but once they reach the Braeburn checkpoint, they switch to four wheels and drive their dog teams in trucks.
According to Harris, each team will be given 12 hours to get their dogs to the next checkpoint at Carmacks, almost 80 miles away. Then the mushers will restart from there and can add remaining dogs to their sleds at that time.
Though the Quest hasn’t instituted a trail change like this in over a decade, Harris remembers a time when this change was made before.
“In the early 2000’s, for sure, I recall the race was sort of in the same situation, and the dogs were trucked around part of the trail, similar to what we’re doing. And one year, when I was a race marshal, we stopped the race at Takhini Hot Springs, just outside of Whitehorse, because of the river ice coming into town. The race has been around for a long time, so a lot of the things we’re encountering now have been encountered before by others.”
Harris says, at this point, the preliminary reports indicate the rest of the trail should be better for mushers to travel on.
“And I know that the closer you get to Dawson City, the better the snow conditions are. So, once they reach Pelly Crossing (checkpoint), they’ll be running into better trail conditions the further north they go.”
According to Harris, at this time, all of the other usual race checkpoints and hospitality stops will be in place.
As of today, 30 teams representing multiple countries are signed up to run the 1,000-mile international sled dog race. Quest spokesperson Pixie Ingram confirmed that Laura Neese withdrew from the race due to complications with a third party on coordinating food drop bags.
The 2019 Yukon Quest is scheduled to begin February 2 in Whitehorse.
Image at top: file photo: a snow-encrusted sled dog in Ambler during the 2015 Kobuk 440. Photo: Francesca Fenzi, KNOM.