The longest snowmachine road race in North America is keeping its engine revving and hoping for even more heading into their 50th year.
The 49th annual running of the Alcan 200 Snowmachine Road Rally took place Saturday crossing international borders starting in Haines, Alaska before making its way up to Dezadeash Lodge in the Yukon.
Hosted by the Chilkat Snowburners, this year’s race saw 35 riders at the start line in comparison to last year’s race of 27.
A total of 26 racers finished the 155-mile race in different classes of snowmachines with Scott Smeeton from Whitehorse crossing the line in the fastest overall time of 1:22:46. Smeeton won the 551-650cc liquid class, which had the largest amount of competitors.
The longtime race also saw a few other Whitehorse racers take the course with Mario Poulin winning the 0-440cc fan class in a time of 1:47:29, just 14 seconds ahead of his closest competitor Michael Bratten. Bratten was actually ahead
of Poulin after the first half of the race to the Yukon side, but Poulin raced a blistering 51:09 on the second half of the race back to Alaska compared to Bratten’s 52:04 split.
Poulin’s average speed throughout the race was 86.5 miles per hour.
Yukon Party MLA Wade Istchenko for Kluane was the race marshal on the Yukon side at the Dezadeash Lake turnaround.
Istchenko has grown up around the race and he said he has been volunteering and working with the race since the early 1990s.
He said the race wouldn’t be possible without the large contingent of volunteers and organizers each year and also noted Yukon Highway and Public Works allows the closure of Haines Road for the race.
The highway was closed from the Yukon/Alaska border to Dezadeash Lodge between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturday.
Over the years, the machines have changed substantially, but Istchenko noted that doesn’t stop some of the riders from bringing back and racing some of the old classic machines, including Poulin.
“Mario is probably one of the longest guys to run it every year in a row,” he said.
Istchenko said one of the reasons he believes people keep coming back both as spectators on the sidelines and as racers is the consistency of its timing – always the third Saturday in January.
Heading into the 50th anniversary race, the Chilkat Snowburners hope to make the race bigger and president Kathi Lapp said even though the logistics haven’t been sorted out, they want Poulin to be involved.
“Mario Poulin has raced a number in a row and his wife Jean is going to help us do a few things,” Lapp said.
Istchenko said they hope to reach out for more sponsorships to make the next race a bigger event to celebrate its many years in existence.
“We’re lobbying for big sponsorship, media and making it a bit bigger event,” he said.
Having been an organizer for many years, Istchenko said the logistics of the race – including of course the crossing of an international border – present challenges.
One of the main obstacles being having to begin setup on the day of very early in the morning. But he said those involved will do whatever it takes to ensure the race runs smoothly.
This also includes the communities where the race is run, Istchenko said, and a testament of the camaraderie between Haines Junction and Haines.
“We’re just like family to them,” he said.
Other Yukon racers included past participants Justin Peterson and his brother Nathan competing in the 651-800cc liquid class and 551-650cc liquid class respectively.
Justin didn’t finish the race and Nathan finished in third place in the class in a time of 1:28:50 with an average speed of 104.7 miles per hour.
Another Whitehorse speedster and Alcan 200 vet, Cory Magnuson started in the 651-800cc class but also didn’t finish.
The fastest speed of the day came from Smeeton who had the fastest overall time. Smeeton had an average speed of 112.1 miles per hour. He also clocked the fastest overall split in the competition on his way back to Alaska in the
second half of the race in a time of 40:08.
The format of the race saw the competitors off near Haines, Alaska before reaching the turnaround point in the Yukon. The racers then lined up and were sent off one at a time based on their finish.
With snow falling lightly throughout the day, Lapp said it was a perfect day for snowmachine racing – and she’s hoping for more of the same for the golden anniversary next year.