Yukon Quest Sled Dog Race kicks off in Fairbanks

Sarah Manriquez / Sun Star

Energy was pulsing through the crisp, cold morning air, Saturday Feb. 6th as thousands of spectators lined both sides of the start chute waiting for 23 mushers to begin tearing down the trail. A fresh dusting of snow rested on the ground in downtown Fairbanks outside of the Morris Thompson Cultural Center. It was the morning of the 33rd annual 1,000-mile international dog-mushing race, the Yukon Quest.

“10…9…8…7…6…,” the crowd chanted, smiles planted on their rose colored cheeks and cameras firmly rooted in their hands. The mushing teams lined up under the iconic yellow banner designating the start line. The sled dogs howled, barked, jumped, and lunged forward with excitement. Dog handlers were lined up on either sides of the dogs, holding on and keeping the dogs facing forward, keeping them from moving down the trail and from getting entangled in the lines. Mushers moved to the back of their sleds, it was time to start. “5…4…3…2…1!!!” The crowd went wild as the dog handlers stepped back, let go and the dogs sprung forward in full force.

One by one and three minutes apart each team made it to the start line and charged forth down the beginning of the 1,000-mile sled dog race.

“Volunteering for the Quest is a bucket list item,” Mark Rutledge, official PR team volunteer said. “To be able to come out and meet all the mushers and volunteers is really something. Their passion is so inspiring. And, our fans, our fans are the best. They are die-hards and come from all over the world.”

A race from Fairbanks to Whitehorse has been talked about as early as 1976. It wasn’t until 1983 that the race became more than just an idea and evolved into a real discussion. This discussion took place in 1983 among four mushers, Roger Williams, Leroy Shank, Ron Rosser and William “Willy” Lipps in the Bull’s Eye Saloon in Fairbanks, AK. The 1,000-mile trail would commemorate the historical highway of the north, the Yukon River. They would trace winter routes that been travelled by prospectors, adventurers and mail and supply carriers since the 1898 Gold Rush.

The first Yukon Quest 1,000 Mile International Sled Dog Race took place the following winter in 1984. Twenty-six teams left Fairbanks and found their way to Whitehorse over the course of 16 days. Sonny Lindner was the first Yukon Quest champion and completed the race in just over 12 days. Since then, the finish times are continually gotten faster and faster. The fastest run was in 2010 by Hans Gait who finished in 9 days and 26 seconds.

The race takes place every February when weather conditions tend to be fairly unpredictable and extremely cold. The race has never been cancelled due to inclement weather. Every even numbered year the race starts in Fairbanks and every odd numbered year it starts in Whitehorse. The trail crosses some of Alaska’s and Canada’s rugged terrain including frozen rivers and four mountain summits. Mushers regularly encounter overflow, thin ice, frigid temperatures and strong winds. This is all part of what the mushers and their teams are knowingly signing up for. It embodies what some call the spirit and soul of the north.

“[The Yukon Quest] is a good challenge for us all,” Mike Ellis, veteran musher said before the start of the race. “The quest is a great family. This whole experience is special. It’s magic, magic on earth and you don’t find that often.”

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *