Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Marcel Vander Wier

FIRST IN LINE – Yukon musher Gaetan Pierrard was the first to sign his registration papers with race operations manager Holly Smith in Whitehorse Saturday afternoon.

Eager mushers sign up for 2016 Quest

Midsummer or not, local mushers are already looking ahead to a cold Yukon winter.

By Marcel Vander Wier on August 3, 2015

Midsummer or not, local mushers are already looking ahead to a cold Yukon winter.

Mendenhall’s Gaetan Pierrard was the first musher to file his registration papers at the Yukon Quest office on a rainy Saturday, fulfilling a dream 13 years in the making.

Rob Cooke also signed up for another 1,000-mile race, while Marcelle Fressineau was on hand to file papers for her handler – Sebastien Dos Santos Borges of France.

“I feel happy,” said Pierrard. “It’s been a long time coming. It took time to breed the dogs, train the dogs, qualify. I just want to finish and be happy.”

The Belgium-born musher said he first came across the sport when he hitchhiked across the country and ended up in Dawson City for the 2002 Quest.

“That’s how I discovered it,” the 39-year-old said. “And I got hooked.”

The Yukon registrations were the climax of the 2016 race kickoff party, dubbed Bark Fest.

The event featured several judged canine competitions, including owner and dog lookalike, best dog trick, best-dressed dog and best dog howl.

A simultaneous event was staged at the Quest office in Fairbanks, where defending champion Brent Sass signed his papers.

“I’m stoked, I want to defend,” Sass told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. “I think my dog team is more than capable. ... They’re all in the prime of their careers.”

Other marquee names include two-time champion Allen Moore and Ed Hopkins, the top Yukoner in 2015.

The current field of 21 features nine rookies and five Canadians.

Eighteen others registered for the Yukon Quest 300, including Aliy Zirkle, still the only woman to win the Yukon Quest.

Mushers have until Jan. 4, 2016 to register for either race.

Meanwhile, the Quest board announced Friday that mushers will be competing for a minimum purse of US$115,000.

That’s down from last year’s purse of $127,110 thanks to more than $12,000 outstanding from the 2014 event.

“I think it’s important that the race is financially viable,” said Cooke, 49. “The Quest can’t put out $150-, $200,000 purses, no matter how much we like it. ... At the end of the day, we’re not here for the money. We’re here for the Quest itself.”

Also announced Friday, Doug Grilliot will return for the fourth straight year as race marshal, while Dr. Christina Hansen is back as head veterinarian. Alex Olesen will be in charge of logistics as race manager for the fourth straight year.

For a full list of mushers registered for next year’s odyssey, visit www.yukonquest.com.

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