Whitehorse Daily Star

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AN UNHAPPY REACTION - Hans Gatt leaves the 2019 Yukon Quest starting chute in Whitehorse. Gatt said he is disappointed and angry by the Quest’s decision to cancel a race on the Canadian side.

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Photo by Whitehorse Star

UNDERSTANDING OF THE DECISION - Rob Cooke and his team arrive in Dawson City during the 2020 Yukon Quest. Cook said the Quest made the sensible decision given the times.

Mushers react to Yukon Quest cancellation

On Sept. 3, the board of directors of the Yukon Quest International Association (YQIA) on the Canadian side cancelled the 38th running of the Yukon Quest.

By John Tonin on September 11, 2020

On Sept. 3, the board of directors of the Yukon Quest International Association (YQIA) on the Canadian side cancelled the 38th running of the Yukon Quest.

In June, it was agreed upon that the Yukon and Alaska boards would hold two separate races as it would not be feasible to run the 1,000-mile international event because of COVID-19 pandemic. The race on the Canadian side was slated to begin on Feb. 6, 2021.

COVID-19 measures and lack of sponsorship money were cited as the reasons the Quest board decided to veto the race.

This has left some mushers feeling disappointed and angry at the boards’ decision.

“‘Disappointed’ doesn’t cut it,” Hans Gatt, a four-time Yukon Quest winner, said this week.

“I’m angry. Sporting organizations everywhere are trying to figure out ways of restarting. The board seems to lack leadership and motivation.”

When it was announced the Quest would be holding two separate races, Gatt said it was welcomed by the mushing community.

“When it was announced there were going to be two races, I thought this was good news,” said Gatt.

“For mushers, we all got excited. We thought we had an opportunity to show something new; show people a race can be done that is more dog-friendly.”

To help the board, Gatt said, a meeting of about 17 mushers was held to come up with ideas on how a race could be done.

“August 7, we had the meeting, and within a few hours we had the groundwork for a race,” said Gatt.

“It was 450 miles from Dawson to Whitehorse. It was dog-friendly to a tee, and it was figured out by mushers.

“We handed that over to the Quest board, so it was a huge surprise and huge disappointment when they decided to not do anything.”

Gatt said the Yukon Quest has played a huge role in his mushing career, which is why he is feeling both sad and angry about the decided outcome.

Nathaniel Hamlyn, a two-time 1,000-mile finisher and who raced the YQ300 in 2020, was a part of the meeting.

“The purpose was to talk options to put forth to the Quest board,” said Hamlyn. “Out of that meeting, about 10 teams were committed.

“With that interest to do something, I was shocked it was cancelled because there was enough interest to have a race in Whitehorse.

“For kennels, racing is a big part of the year. They should see the support side from mushers and thought there would be more activity.”

Gatt said the number of committed mushers grew to 20 with mushers outside the Yukon’s bubble also interested if they were allowed to come race.

The shuttered borders were another factor the board cited in its decision to cancel the Quest’s 38th running.

Hamlyn said the board should have looked more within the territory.

“I think they focused too much on teams outside the territory,” said Hamlyn.

Having a shorter race, Hamlyn said, would have opened the door for more mushers who may not have been keen to run 1,000 miles.

“At the meeting, there were new mushers or mushers who hadn’t done a thousand miles before,” said Hamlyn. “A shorter race attracts more teams.”

Despite the surprise, Hamlyn said, he doesn’t want to come down to hard on the Quest, and understands there would be lots to organize, but it’s an opportunity missed.

“They are still doing a race in Alaska,” said Hamlyn. “This was a year to get creative and get more teams involved. The spirit of the Quest is distance and self-sufficiency. You don’t need to have checkpoints in the communities.”

Rob Cooke, a seven-time Yukon Quest 1,000-mile veteran, said it was a mixture of sadness and disappointment when he learned about the news.

“I saw it coming,” said Cooke. “The board was working hard to look at different options. Sponsorship is hurting, and there was the concern with going into the communities because we are still in a pandemic. I think they made the sensible decision.”

Alaska is going ahead with a race that follows the regular YQ300 route.

The name has been changed to “The Summit Quest”, as it includes two of the 1,000-mile race’s highest climbs, Rosebud and Eagle Summit.

“The Alaska side is in a different position,” said Cooke. “Two Rivers is remote, Mile 101 is only a checkpoint for the Quest and Central is a small community. Circle is the only First Nation community, so if they’re happy….”

Cooke believes it is important that at least one race is happening for fans in February and believes the race will come back in 2022.

“I trust it will be back in 2022,” said Cooke. “There is always concern the race could just drop off for people, but I’m sure this is just a blip.”

Cooke said he, along with other mushers in the territory, are all looking for other races.

If it goes, Cooke said he will be doing the Percy DeWolfe and local Dog Powered Sports Association of Yukon (DPSAY) races like the Carbon Hill and Granger Grind.

Comments (1)

Up 17 Down 2

Not seeing the reason for no Quest on Sep 12, 2020 at 12:06 pm

The Silver Sled in Haines Junction (75 or 150 miles, not sure yet), the Percy DeWolfe in Dawson (new all Yukon route, usually a 100 mile and a 200 mile), the Dog Powered Sports Association community races (2 miles to 100 miles), and the Yukon Dog Musher's Association sprint races are all happening this winter.

Only the Yukon Quest, which has full time staff and receives $150,000 in funding every year from YG Tourism plus other government funds, decided to not have a race this year. Think about that. Every single other organization, including the Yukon Quest on the Alaska side, found a way to have their race, but not this Board of Directors. Where is the accountability? Their reason for existing is to put a dog sled race on. 'Covid, budget...' Those are the two reasons to toss the race out the window? How come all the other races can manage?

I hope the mushers just get up and do their own race, even if that means setting up a wall tent on the trail instead of entering the communities. Did anyone talk to the communities to get their ideas, thoughts and concerns?

When so many of the resources go to one organization, it really is stunning that they of all, are the ONLY one that decides to quit because it's too hard and dangerous supposedly.

The plan from the mushers for the race this year had over 10x the mandatory rest that the usual Quest does from Whitehorse to Dawson. That took away the option from mushers to cut rest to get ahead. Most mushers would rest their dogs that much anyway, but there were a few mushers who chronically cheated their dogs and over ran them. The mushers on the Yukon side came up with a race that moved the Yukon Quest way forward in terms of dog welfare, and the board decided, no, ain't gonna happen.

People in the Yukon need positive events and activities this year of all years. If you can't organize a wilderness dog sled race 'because of covid', then what activities CAN we do?!

Totally nuts.

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