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Yukon Quest Sled Dog Race in Alaska, USA, and Canada

Sled Dog
Sled Dog


In February 1983, historian Roger Williams and musher Leroy Shank sketched out their idea of a rugged, 1000-mile race over some beer and banter at the Bull’s Eye Saloon, south of Fairbanks, Alaska.

They envisioned a race independent of the demands of big media - with rules so tough that only mushing “purists” would participate.

They would name it “Yukon Quest” - after the ‘old highway of the North,’ the Yukon River as the route would follow travel routes along the river and its tributaries from Fairbanks, Alaska, and Whitehorse, Yukon and Lord Tennyson’s description of the Quest as an expedition of knights in ‘The Holy Grail’.

It would be a true test of human and canine endurance and commemorate the historic dependence for mutual survival of arctic humans and their sled dogs.

Williams and Shank went on to raise $50,000 in prize money and stirred up an incredible 400 volunteers and in February 1984, 27 teams burst out of the start chute in Fairbanks in the first Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.

Yukon Quest Route Map
Yukon Quest Route Map

The Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race thanks the countless mushers, handlers, volunteers, sponsors and individuals who have made this historic race possible.

In 2013, the winner will receive $18,930, which is 18.93% of a total $100,000 purse.

The main differences between the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod are the following:

  • LOCATION: The Yukon Quest trail is half in Canada’s Yukon Territory and half in Alaska, USA, whereas the Iditarod trail is entirely in Alaska.
  • NUMBER OF DOGS: A Yukon Quest team is made up of 6 to 14 dogs, whereas an Iditarod team can have 6 to 16 dogs.
  • NUMBER OF CHECKPOINTS: The Yukon Quest has 10 checkpoints whereas the Iditarod has 26, making the distances between checkpoints longer, on average, in the Yukon Quest, and requiring Yukon Quest mushers to camp along the trail significantly more often than in Iditarod and to pack their sleds more heavily.
  • TIME OF YEAR: The Yukon Quest begins in February; the Iditarod begins in early March. This difference allows for significantly warmer temperatures and longer days (more light) in the latter race.
  • TERRAIN: Because the Yukon Quest Trail crosses four mountain ranges, teams experience significant elevation changes during the race; the Iditarod crosses over one mountain range.
  • TRAIL HISTORY: The Yukon Quest Trail dates back to 1870s to the Forty Mile Gold Rush Era. The Iditarod dates back to the 1925 Serum Run from Nenana to Nome.
  • LOCATION OF TRAIL: The Yukon Quest trail is entirely inland and can experience the severe winter weather of the interior, whereas the Iditarod runs inland to the coast and can experience severe coastal winds near the finish.
  • NUMBER OF SLEDS ALLOWED: Yukon Quest rules say that only one sled can be used by a competitor and cannot be replaced except with special permission from the Race Marshal and rarely without a time penalty. Iditarod rules say competitors can replace sleds, using a maximum of three during the race. Because of this difference, Yukon Quest mushers tend to use heavier, more robust sleds to accommodate trail conditions across the 1,000 mile route, whereas Iditarod mushers are able to use lighter sleds at strategic points in the race to take advantage of less demanding trail conditions.

The race direction alternates each year

This was the vision of the Yukon Quest founders, Roger Williams and Leroy Shank, who wanted the race to respect the true history of arctic mushing, which knew no borders and which followed the “old highways of the North,” the Yukon River and its tributaries, which is almost perfectly divided between Alaska and the Yukon. Alternating the location of the Race Start gives mushers the experience of ‘coming and going’ to their destination and offers greater variety as each direction presents different challenges.

There is a mandatory 36-hour layover in Dawson City

Dawson City was the home of the Klondike Gold Rush and is still famous for its unique Northern hospitality today and unique 1898-era buildings. The Yukon Quest stops here for a good rest, just like the trappers, mail carriers and mushers did over a century ago. The halfway point in the race is a good time for the mushers to rest. Although the dogs work on an approximately even run-rest schedule, the mushers do not, and replenishing their energy during their mandatory Dawson City layover allows them to be as fresh as possible for the second half of the race. All Yukon Quest sled dogs receive at least one, and often more, complete physical examinations by the Yukon Quest Veterinary Team during their rest in Dawson City to be sure that they are ready to compete in the remainder of the race. The 36-hour mandatory layover also gives the dog handlers a chance to work with and exercise their team’s dogs—this is their only opportunity to do so during the entire race.

The origins of the word “mushing

“Mushing” is a general term for any transport method powered by dogs and includes carting, pulka, scootering, sled dog racing, skijoring, freighting, and weight pulling. More specifically, it implies the use of one or more dogs to pull a sled on snow. The term is thought to come from the French word marche, or go. It is the command to the team to commence pulling—Mush! Although this term is seldom used in the modern day, it still gives name to the sport.

Duration of race

The winner and frontrunners in the Yukon Quest take approximately 10 days. The record for the fastest time, set by Hans Gatt in 2010, is 9 days, 0 hours and 26 minutes. Red Lantern winners and others at the back of the pack can take up to 16 days or more, depending on trail and weather conditions. The Yukon Quest Trail is always called “historic” – what is historic about it? The Yukon Quest Trail links together a series of shorter travel routes that were the only means of winter travel over a century ago. When Yukon Quest founders began looking for a route to follow between Fairbanks and Whitehorse, they resurrected many historic routes and combined them to cover 1,000 miles.




Document Information
Source: Yukon Quest International - yukonquest.com
Last modified: 20130130
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