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2018 Yukon Quest Begins on Saturday

A group of sled dogs dashes over the snow in front of a crowd behind white and yellow barriers.
A dog team leaves the starting chute of the Yukon Quest in Whitehorse, February 9th, 2003. (Photo: Public domain)

Tomorrow is the big day for Yukon Quest race fans. The 2018 international sled dog race is set to begin at 11am in Fairbanks.

The pre-race veterinarian check has been completed; all 26 teams have their starting positions and are ready to run the 1,000 miles into Whitehorse, Yukon.

Cameron Webber, with the Quest’s public relations team, says this year’s vast lineup of mushers is an eclectic mix.

“They’ve got veterans who haven’t done it for 20 years, and the rookies, the family aspect. I’m definitely looking forward to a really strong showing from the female mushers this year. And other rookies like Alex (Buetow) for sure, he’s coming in pretty confident. The people that end up doing it, they love it for the right reasons. It’s competitive, but they always tap into the history of the trail, and the people, the mushers, you know, they’re into it, so it should be a good one!”

Looking at the trail conditions these competitors will be traversing, there appears to be more than enough snow on a good portion of the route. According to a statement from the Yukon Quest, volunteer trail breakers, including Canadian Rangers, have been working to groom the long expanse of trail in both countries.

Quest staff says the trail from Circle to Eagle, Alaska, will be challenging due to deep snow and rough ice crossings with windblown areas along the Yukon river. As such, the trail route will follow along the river to Eagle instead of the Ford Lake Portage way.

Race marshal Doug Harris says one of the big changes along the trail this year will take place at a stretch from Braeburn to Whitehorse, where the almost 1,000-mile race finishes.

“Because south of Braeburn to Whitehorse is extremely icy conditions, the decision was made to still use the checkpoint at Braeburn; run the dogs to Braeburn, backtrack on the same trail they came in on for 17 miles, then turn south, run to Lake Laberge, onto the Takhini River, and then there’s an overland route that we’re using from the Takhini River bridge into Whitehorse to stay off the Yukon River, because it’s very glaciated this year, and there are some open leads in that section.”

Harris has walked that portion of the trail near Whitehorse and says even though the trail will be 15 miles shorter, the route around Lake Laberge is in good condition and probably won’t feel much shorter than usual for the mushers.

Despite this change along the trail, the same eleven official checkpoints on the Yukon Quest route are intact and will mostly follow the Yukon River. Some places have more open water, like the area near Dawson, whereas others, like Crooked Creek, are drier than usual.

Of the 26 mushers competing in this year’s race, six different nationalities are represented in 11 rookies and 15 veterans, three of whom are also past Quest champions. Two Western Alaska mushers, veteran Katherine Keith of Kotzebue and Quest rookie Ike Underwood of Aniak, are also running this year’s race.

Tim Pappas, a rookie from Willow, will be the first to leave the starting line in Fairbanks tomorrow morning at 11am.

Image at top: file photo: a dog team leaves the starting chute of the Yukon Quest on February 9th, 2003. (Photo: Public domain.)

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