Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Marcel Vander Wier

FUTURE STAR – Ryne Olson wakes up her slumbering sled dogs at the McCabe Creek checkpoint Feb. 9. The 25-year-old from Two Rivers ran her first Yukon Quest in 2015, finishing 13th.

Frustration mounts as Quest runs heavy deficit

The 2016 Yukon Quest could see a reduced purse after this year’s mushing odyssey saddled the race with more than $51,000 in debt.

By Marcel Vander Wier on May 21, 2015

The 2016 Yukon Quest could see a reduced purse after this year’s mushing odyssey saddled the race with more than $51,000 in debt.

A draft budget for next year’s race could see the purse drop from $127,110 to $100,000.

And despite the projected reduction, next year’s race is expected to run a deficit of at least $14,000, it was revealed yesterday.

Mushers Tamra Reynolds and Rob Cooke were among the 20 race faithful who attended last night’s Yukon Quest annual general meeting at the Whitehorse Public Library.

A lighter purse will result in a lower number of mushers next year, warned Reynolds, who entered her first Yukon Quest this year before eventually scratching in Carmacks.

Some 300-mile races have bigger purses than the Quest, added the Annie Lake musher, noting a realistic purse should be “at least what you were at last year.”

Cooke said the race needs to strive for a $200,000 purse, at minimum.

Yukon board president Michael Peterson acknowledged their concerns, adding plans are in the works to have every finishing musher receive a portion of the winnings.

It was also revealed yesterday that two board members chipped in personal monies to help alleviate the shortfall incurred in 2015. Peterson declined to reveal the amount donated.

“The numbers don’t lie,” said Natalie Haltrich, vice-president of the Yukon board, calling the debt “scary” before reminding members of more serious struggles in the past.

“Maybe we do need to revisit how we’re running this dog race.”

One member even proposed holding a race without a prize purse to allow mushers to put the 1,600-kilometre race – known as the most difficult in the North – back in good financial standing.

Post-meeting, Reynolds told the Star she believes the key to a sustainable, prosperous race is raising the prize purse.

Heavier cash prizes will draw more competitive mushers, attracting media and then sponsors, which will once again increase the purse, she explained.

“The hard part is increasing sponsors in order to increase the purse to start all this,” she said.

Hiring the right executive director is paramount to the race’s future success, she added.

Yukon executive director Laurie Parris recently resigned after spending one year on the job.

Peterson downplayed concerns in an interview this morning, however.

“There’s been a recurring deficit each year that’s just rolled on essentially since the economic downturn in 2008,” he said. “It’s become a habit and it is something we have to turn around this year.

“I’m not nervous (about the future). ... We were almost $250,000 (in debt) after the 2009 shortfall. We got out of that progressively. I would be more concerned about the Quest in terms of potential problems from global warming than I would be from anything else, and I don’t even think that’s a major concern. ... That was a huge issue in Alaska this year with the Iditarod.”

Peterson added that while the numbers revealed last night were from the Yukon board, the Alaska board’s financial statements are similar.

Alongside the obvious financial struggles, some race rules were also discussed yesterday, including a likely reversal of changes to mandatory layovers that saw mushers required to rest in Dawson City for just 24 hours this year.

Typically, dog teams were treated to a 36-hour rest at the race’s halfway point.

“It’s no big secret,” said Peterson. “The sentiment is to go back to 36 hours for a variety of reasons, but everybody realized we would never have known this if we hadn’t tried.”

The final decision will be made by the rules committee, he noted.

Also reiterated was a rule regarding communication devices. The Yukon Quest does not allow two-way communication devices on the trail, only in checkpoints.

This rule was clarified in March after Yukon Quest champion Brent Sass was disqualified from the Iditarod for using an iPod Touch on the trail.

Two new Yukon board members were also added to the ranks yesterday, with Elisabeth Weigand and Ingabritt Scholven joining Harry Kern, Dylan Soo and Briana Mackay as directors.

Peterson stays on as president, Haltrich as vice-president, Bev Regier as treasurer and Judy Beaumont as secretary. Vancouver’s Damon Tedford will serve as musher representative after earning rookie of the year honours for his fourth-place finish in the 2015 race.

Peterson said the territory and the country should be proud of the six Canadian mushers who finished the icy trek in February.

The efforts of Jason Campeau, Normand Casavant, Cooke, Ed Hopkins, Tedford and Brian Wilmshurst helped raise the profile of the race across Canada, he said.

Comments (1)

Up 13 Down 3

Bumbaclat69 on May 23, 2015 at 11:23 pm

Since relocating to the Yukon some 15 years ago, this race has given me the opportunity to take hundreds of fantastic photos of this event and the amazing athletes involved in this race. As I got intimately involved with the management of the race I got progressively disillusioned with the organization and their mod-us-operandi as it pertains to the bashing of its ex Executive Directors.
Tamara Reynolds was quoted as saying that hiring the right ED was crucial to the success of the race. Are you saying that with six EDs over the last six years, you have not found the right ED as yet? This is a blatant example of an ineffective board again blaming the ED when the board made the position of the ED redundant through micro management, and disregarding all the former EDs recommendations. One famous philosopher is quoted as saying "You can fool some of the people all the time, but not all the people, all of the time". Was this a loan from these two executives or a donation? I would suggest to Marcel Vander Wier that the truth is out there so find it, don't believe everything you hear.

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