The Yukon Quest began as a shared dream of musher LeRoy Shank and non-musher and historian Roger Williams. They dedicated their vision to the gold seekers, mail carriers, trappers and the traders who settled the great North during the turn of the century.
This international sled dog race began in 1984 with 27 teams, covering 1,000 miles / 1,600 km of rough and sometime hazardous terrain between Whitehorse, Yukon and Fairbanks, Alaska. This event takes place each year in mid February at a time when the weather can be unpredictably cold. The starting point alternates between the two cities; even years from Fairbanks and odd years from Whitehorse. The race starts on schedule regardless of weather and will take from 11 to 14 days to complete, depending on weather conditions encountered on the trail. Only the race Marshall or Judges can change the starting place and time.
The race becomes more popular internationally each year. The Yukon Quest will begin in Whitehorse, Yukon on February 8, 1998. The Quest allows no more than 50 entrants and the $100,000 (U.S. ) is divided among the first 20 finishing teams. The race winner will take home $25,000.
Drivers ( mushers ) must be at least 18 years of age and start the race with no less than 8 dogs and no more than 14. Drivers must finish the race with no less than 8 dogs. Dogs may not be added to the team after the start of the race.
There are 9 official checkpoints along the trail, including Fairbanks and Whitehorse. Pelly Crossing, Yukon was added to the 1996 race for the first time. Dogs are checked by the veterinarians provided by the Yukon Quest. No dog teams are permitted to leave the Checkpoints until the dogs in that team are in condition to finish the race. Dog care is of the utmost importance.
The Official Race Rules are published each year. There are sometimes slight changes in the rules to provide the best conditions for both musher and his/her dogs. All mushers are bound by the rules and any infractions of the rules can lead to fines, time penalties , disqualification and censure from subsequent races.
All food and equipment must be in cloth burlap bags, permanently marked with the driver or kennel name, and may not exceed a maximum weight of 60 lbs / 27.2 kg. Straw is also mandatory at each checkpoint, and must also be shipped in a wrapped bale. All equipment and personal gear a musher may need at a checkpoint must be shipped to that checkpoint prior to the start of the race.
Each musher must carry at least 8 booties for each dog, per 50 miles / 30 km. New ones can only be picked up with his/her gear already at the checkpoints. All dogs will be on the towline or carried in the sled bag if they become injured or tired.
Food must also be provided for the dogs. A suggested ratio is 8 lbs / 13 kg per dog per day. With the new foods on the market some mushers may carry less poundage for the dogs. Other traditional methods may include light weight commercial dog food supplemented with lamb, chicken, salmon or white fish.
Good strategy and routine are an important part of the race. If the days are too warm the team will run at night and rest during the day. A musher may run the dogs in a four on, four off pattern. The musher must be prepared for very cold nights which could drop lower than -40 C. Teams run hard and rest often. During a typical stopover, mushers will build a fire, cook, check and feed the dogs, eat and catch a few hours sleep.There are short mandatory layovers, at Angel Creek, Dawson and Carmacks.In even number years Angel Creek will be a 2 hour stop, Dawson, a mandatory 36 hours and Carmacks, 8 hours. In odd numbered years the reverse is true.Dawson City is the only checkpoint that a musher may receive outside help. This is where the handlers take over, the musher is able to get rested and prepared for the last leg of the race.
The Yukon Quest gets its name form the old " Highway of the North", the Yukon River, and traces the path that the prospectors followed to reach the Alaskan interior from the Klondike during the Gold Rush.
The first musher over the 1984 starting line was "Pecos" Humphreys, with Sonny Lindner winning that first race. The first Canadian to win the race was Bruce Johnson of Atlin B.C. in 1986. Tragedy struck the racing world with the untimely death of Bruce Johnson in November 1993. In 1984 Lorrina Mitchell was the first woman to cross the finish line. Since then 21 other women have entered the race. In 1989, Yukoner Jennine Cathers became the youngest musher to enter the race. In 1989, 90, 91, 92 and 1993, Jennine and her father Ned, were the first and only father daughter combination to run the Quest. In 1990 Linda and Will Forsberg ran as a husband and wife team. Connie and Terri Frerichs ran as a mother and daughter team.
The shortest race was run in 1995. Frank Turner beat Charlie Boulding's 1991 winning time of 10 days, 21 hours and 12 minutes with a new record of 10 days, 16 hours and 18 minutes. The longest Yukon Quest race finished in 14 days, 9 hours and 17 minutes with Bruce Johnson taking first place. The closest finish was in 1991, with Bruce Lee a mere 5 minutes behind the leader. In 1991 the first 3 mushers completed the race within 51 minutes of each other.