Winter-like conditions, including six centimetres of snow over the race route, led to first cancellation in 25 years
For the first time in race history, the Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay was cancelled last weekend.
More than six centimetres of snow had fallen on the race route overnight when the call was made to cancel the event, which was celebrating its 25th year.
At 6:11 a.m., a post went up on the Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay Facebook page announcing the cancellation. “Unfortunately there is a lot of snow on the ground in Haines Junction and even more at elevation,” it read. “For the safety of participants the board and race coordinator have cancelled the race.”
A 240-kilometre cycling race that travels from Haines Junction to Haines, Alaska on mostly pristine pavement attracts cyclists from across the world. This year the race filled up in a record 36 hours with 1,200 participants expected to tackle the route solo and on two, four and eight-person women’s, men’s and mixed teams.
The 25th edition of the race had 92 riders registered in the solo division, which race coordinator Mike Kramer believes is a record.
Precipitation had plagued the area for days leading up to the race. A popular camping area for road relay riders just south of Haines Junction, normally packed with campers, was sparsely populated with tents and RVs Friday night.
Late in the evening the staccato sound of rain on roofs was replaced with light thuds as wet snow began to fall.
In the morning, campers woke to a scene more likely near Christmas than days before summer solstice as snow blanketed the surroundings.
Families cooked bacon and eggs off their tailgates covered in tarpaulins as others dug out their tents and shook snow from their flys.
One mother, who had booked time off work for family vacation around the race, pointed helplessly to the canoe strapped to the roof of their RV. Her children constructed a snowman complete with carrot nose as they waited for more news from the race officials.
Word travelled between campgrounds and rest areas down the Haines Highway that the race had been cancelled.
Road advisories for sections of the highway up to the summit mentioned slush, black ice and heavy snow. They were lifted shortly after 10:30 a.m. Saturday.
“Safety is our first priority and the snow that fell in the area overnight made the route unsafe for all those involved in the relay,” said Kramer. “It was a disappointing decision to make, but a pretty easy decision to make.”
The fish barbecue at the finish went on as planned in Haines and while it wasn’t as busy as usual, there was still a decent turnout, said Kramer.
The race has had a few close calls with weather in the past. In 2012, racers faced cold temperatures, rain, headwinds and thick fog near the summit.
With snow spotted this year on the first three legs of the race – about 80 kilometres of road, the call was made to cancel.
Many riders were seen out on the Haines Highway later Saturday and Sunday as the snow melted and the pavement dried out.
The Kluane Chilkat Bike Relay requires more than 200 volunteers to make the race happen and many community organizations are awarded honorariums from the race. According to a pre-race press release, the race raised more than $16,000 for community groups in Alaska and the Yukon.
The honorariums will be given again this year. The race fees are non-refundable.
Kramer said that if the race fees were refunded, “that would probably be the end of KCIBR,” a non-profit organization.
There are already discussions on whether next year’s race will be the 26th annual Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay, or take-two of the 25th.