Yukon North Of Ordinary

Sports archive for January 22, 2014

Quest braces for smallest race field in 31-year history

The smallest race field in Yukon Quest history will exit the starting chute in Fairbanks, Alaska, Feb. 1.

By Marcel Vander Wier on January 22, 2014 at 2:47 pm

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The smallest race field in Yukon Quest history will exit the starting chute in Fairbanks, Alaska, Feb. 1.

The field for the 1,600-km international sled dog race is down to 18 following the withdrawals of rookie mushers Blake Matray and Nicole Faille over the past week.

Their withdrawals mean just 13 veterans and five rookies will compete for victory in the 31st annual race.

Prior to this year, the lowest amount of mushers to start the Yukon Quest was 21, in both 1996 and 2005.

The largest race field in history occurred in 1988, when 47 mushers took to the trail.

Despite the low musher count, the race purse will remain at $115,000, up $15,000 from last year’s total.

“It’s sad to see, but at the same time we understand,” Marie Belanger said of the small race field. Belanger is the executive director of the Yukon side of the race.

“Nobody loves it, that’s for sure,” she said. “We’d love to have a bigger field ... 30 would be wonderful.”

Mushers drop out for a variety of reasons, including financial instability or concerns about their, or their dog team’s, health.

The race’s Alaskan executive director Marti Steury said the race has been through struggles before.

“I really feel like it’s an anomaly,” she told the Star. “We have a double anomaly here. Not only is it the lowest number of teams in the 1,000-mile, on the Alaska side, it is an all-time record high (17 teams) for the 300-mile. We have never had this many in the 300 ... this is 300 wicked miles.”

The Yukon Quest 300 is a qualifying race for the 1,600-km race.

“In reality, we aren’t looking at it as fewer teams, because we are actually handling way more,” she added. “Every cloud has a silver lining.” 

Besides the small race field for the longer race, unseasonably warm temperatures are also a cause for concern.

Temperatures on both sides of the border are hovering around the freezing mark, causing problems across the mushing circuits in both Alaska and Yukon.

“It isn’t unprecedented,” Steury said of warm conditions along the historic trail. During the first race in 1984, the snowpack began to melt quickly as racers exited Dawson City, causing problems as the stumps of trimmed willows began to poke through the trail, Steury recalled.

“There have been times on both sides of the border, depending on whether it’s warm weather, cold weather, open water, overflow, where they’ve had to re-route the trail. We just re-routed the trail last year because of overflow.”

Last year, winner Allen Moore set a new race record as mushers were forced to bypass American Summit.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Rangers filed a report to the Yukon office after spending the weekend breaking trail from Whitehorse to Dawson City.

“Everybody’s a bit worried, whether it’s the mushers, the families, the Quest, the vets,” Belanger said. “The trail has been put in and there’s wet sections, to nobody’s surprise. It’s warm. We could call it hot for the North. It’s definitely going to be wet. We can’t hide that or deny that. I think the mushers expect it. It’s wet all over. It’s not just the Yukon Quest trail.”

Conditions can change overnight, Belanger explained, and there is still more than two weeks before mushers will hit the finish line in Whitehorse.

“If it’s -20, things are going to change,” she said. “If it snows, everything is going to change. So it’s really hard to say anything at the moment.”

For now, the race is expected to be able to occur along its traditional route.

“From the start to the finish, we have trailbreakers ahead of the teams,” Belanger said. “They do a great job. If they need to change the trail, they can do it.

“The race is happening. We’re not changing that for sure.”

By MARCEL VANDER WIER
Star Sports Editor

CommentsAdd a comment

Sharon K Vermeulen

Feb 1, 2014 at 1:18 pm

Go Snowhook!

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