Brent Sass poses with his lead dogs after crossing the finish line in Whitehorse on Feb. 11 to win his third Yukon Quest. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Organizers cancel 1,000-mile Yukon Quest sled dog race for 2021

Sept. 3 announcement highlights COVID-19 impacts as rationale

Organizers of the Yukon Quest – Canada’s epig sled dog race – have announced the 2021 event has been cancelled.

The Yukon Quest International Association (Canada) announced the cancellation in a news release on Thursday (Sept. 3), just under a week after the Alaskan board announced plans for a 300-mile (480-kilometre) race.

In June, the Yukon Quest announced it would hold separate races in Alaska and the Yukon this year due to COVID-19.

Ongoing COVID-19 pandemic was the underlying cause of the Canadian cancellation, organizers say.

“We did not make this decision lightly,” Bev Regier, president of the Canadian board, said in a statement. “We have a responsibility to look at all aspects of the organization and an even greater responsibility to keep our community’s health a priority.”

The release notes that the border restrictions, which led to the decision to hold separate races in the two countries this year, were already impacting plans for the Feb. 6 start in Whitehorse.

Those travel restrictions, coupled with “economic challenges to local sponsors” and the possibility of bringing COVID-19 into Yukon communities were enumerated as the rationale for the decision.

Regier told the Yukon News that the board had been considering a race from Dawson City to Whitehorse, but that it proved unfeasible.

Some First Nations along the route wanted mushers limited to those within the Yukon’s COVID-19 bubble with British Columbia and the other territories. She said the Quest understands and respects that stance, but acknowledged it made planning to hold a race very difficult.

With many of the local sponsors unable to contribute as they typically would due to the financial impacts of COVID-19 and usual fundraising efforts — like raffles and banquets — also unable to happen, Regier said financially holding a race would be very difficult.

Last year’s race began with just 15 mushers reaching the start chute, and only five Canadians. Two more mushers had been scheduled to race but were unable to because of missing qualifying requirements. In 2019, there were 30 total mushers and eight Canadians.

The 2020 field was the smallest in the race’s history.

Given current travel restrictions and the Yukon’s COVID-19 bubble, five of the 2020 mushers and six of the 2019 mushers would be eligible to race in the Yukon without any need to self-isolate for two weeks in advance.

While 2021 will not include a Yukon race, the Alaskan board will hold what is being called a “Summit Quest” based on the typical Yukon Quest 300 course, tackling both Rosebud and Eagle summits.

The Aug. 28 announcement from the Alaskan board made it clear the intention is to hold a 1,000-mile race in 2022, something Regier confirmed.

“It also needs to be said, that there is no doubt, neither on the Canadian nor the Alaskan side, that a 1,000-mile Yukon Quest Race will start in 2022,” the statement said.

Musher signup day for the Summit Quest is Oct. 3.

Contact John Hopkins-Hill at john.hopkinshill@yukon-news.com

Yukon Quest

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