The Yukon will be host to a long-distance dogsled race in 2021. On Friday, the Dog Powered Sports Association of Yukon (DPSAY) announced they received funding and will be able to hold the Yukon Journey 450 – a race from Dawson City to Whitehorse.
Nathaniel Hamlyn, a two-time Yukon Quest finisher and DPSAY board member said the race was looking bleak, even as of last Thursday, but Lotteries Yukon, who has funded DPSAY races previously, came through with funding.
In an email sent out by DPSAY, it said Lotteries Yukon’s mandate is to “provide funding assistance to projects that sustain and contribute to the growth of the arts, sport and recreation within Yukon for the benefit and enjoyment of Yukon people”.
“The response from Lotteries was tremendous and welcome! Lotteries Yukon saw the value of our proposal not only for the people of Whitehorse, but also for rural communities,” read the email.
Hamlyn said DPSAY received a Government of Yukon approved COVID-19 plan.
“We will abide by the rules of outdoor events,” said Hamlyn. “During the Yukon Quest, people are sleeping in tight quarters, but this will really be a solo race. There will be wall tents but no buildings on the route. People will be sleeping with their team and not together.
“Food will be the responsibility of the musher. The handler will bring the drop bags, and mushers and handlers will be considered a bubble. You don’t need a communal space. Your truck is your spot.
“We really aren’t asking for anything out of the norm.”
When the Yukon Quest cancelled the race on the Canadian side in early September, it said it wanted to keep all the communities the race passes through safe. Bev Regier, the president of the Yukon board of directors, said the Quest was in consultation with the First Nations along the route.
Hamlyn said DPSAY received support letters from First Nations.
“It was important to get their support and it was a key piece to getting approval,” said Hamlyn.
The email from DPSAY said they had letters from the Trondek Hwech’in, the Selkirk First Nation, and Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation. They also got support letters from Braeburn Lodge, the Klondike Visitors Association, and the Village of Carmacks “who welcomed our presence in their towns and who are offering us their help to put on the event”.
Now that the funding has been approved, there is still plenty of work to be done ahead. Hamlyn said it is late into the season to be announcing a 450-mile race.
“It’s a little late in the season to announce a race and train,” said Hamlyn. “In an ideal world, we would have made the announcement in the summer. It’s a little weird, but it is weird times.
“We would have planned earlier if we had known the Yukon Quest decision earlier.”
The mushing community was aware that a 450-mile race was in the works. DPSAY had sent out a survey to gauge the community’s interest and support in this project.
“We got good feedback from the survey,” said Hamlyn. “People did know there could be a race it was just not officially announced.”
Hamlyn said the Yukon Journey 450 is much needed given the times and gives mushers a goal to train for.
“People at this point, with the bubble they can’t travel to Alaska, are looking internal,” he said. “This option will get people excited and motivated to train. Motivation to train is huge. They also won’t have to do a crazy self-isolation plan.”
DPSAY’s race plan, Hamlyn said, will be the same one 17 mushers drafted and proposed to the Yukon Quest before they decided to cancel the 2021 race.
“The plan presented to the Quest focused on trying to get more rest back into the race and an emphasis on dog care,” said Hamlyn.
To accomplish this, Hamlyn said the 200-ish miles to Pelly Crossing will not be timed. All the mushers will leave Pelly at the same time in intervals.
“The first half of the race is not timed and this will allow people to take time and strategize for the last half,” he explained.
Mushers who are not sold on doing 450 miles also have the option to only do 200.
“It’s the 450 plus 200, it is two races under the same umbrella,” said Hamlyn. “If sign-ups are not 100 per cent confident to go 450 miles or feel they didn’t get enough training they can do the 200 option and stop in Pelly.”
The max number of dogs per team is twelve.
To race in the 1,000 mile Yukon Quest race from Whitehorse to Fairbanks or vice versa, a musher and their team need to complete a sanctioned 300-mile race – like the YQ300, Copper Basin, or Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Race, to name a few.
“We are starting the conversation with the Quest to make it a qualifier,” said Hamlyn. “We are hoping it is a qualifier.”
DPSAY is still looking for volunteers to help with the Yukon Journey 450. One of the big hurdles is breaking the trail, which the Rangers usually do. However, because of COVID-19 DPSAY was told by the rangers they could not authorize a training exercise this year to put in the trail.
A team of volunteers stepped up to create a team to do it 100 per cent locally.
Hamlyn said DPSAY is still on the lookout for more vets and vet techs.
As well, they are looking for checkpoint volunteers and meal cooks.
If people would like to volunteer for the Yukon Journey 450, Hamlyn said anyone interested in volunteering can contact DPSAY for a full list of roles.
DPSAY will follow the borders rules that the Government of Yukon has in place at the time of the race for the non-essential travellers. Mushers from outside the Yukon will be able to participate only if YG allows for it.
The Yukon Journey 450 will go from Feb. 21-26. It will start in Dawson City and travel to Whitehorse.