The Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race, "The most difficult sled dog race in the world," began February 6th at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center at 101 Dunkel Street in Fairbanks, Alaska. The race will cover 1,000 miles of extreme and majestic terrain on the way to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada.
Dog mushing is the Official Alaska State Sport, with the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod being Alaska’s premier long distance mushing events. The Yukon Quest trail follows historical gold rush and mail delivery dog sled routes. Once the transportation “highways” of the northern frontier, the Yukon Quest trail now comes alive each February with the frosty breath and haunting howls of dog teams consisting of one human musher and 14 canine athletes.
Race participants are following a 1,000-mile trail that traverses some of the most sparsely populated, remote and pristine country on the North American continent, where temperatures can vary dramatically from –80F to 30F. High winds and whiteout conditions, rough gravel, hard packed snow, frigid open water, mountainous terrain and river flats can speed up the race or slow it to a crawl. Mushers driving sleds loaded with 250-300 pounds of gear are challenged by elevation changes as they climb windy and drifted mountain summits, and the sheer distances between checkpoints, some over 100 miles.
Twenty-three mushers took off from the start line in Fairbanks. This year’s participants include three past champions, all Alaskan residents. Allen Moore won back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2014; Hugh Neff took the crown in 2012 and Brett Sass, who is the reigning champion.
The 2016 Yukon Quest should take 9 to 14 days to run the 1,000 miles through nine communities en route to Whitehorse. For the latest news and information, visit yukonquest.com.