Yukon Quest is rerouted off Yukon River due to unsafe ice conditions

A musher seen in profile going down a river
Matt Hall’s team approaches the finish of the 2022 Yukon Quest 350-mile race (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

Organizers had hoped to return the race to a portion of its traditional route on the Yukon River for the first time since 2020, but it’s not to be. Yukon Quest Alaska executive director Cathy Dimon said people who live along the river between the Circle and Eagle checkpoints report that a 2-inch layer of ice formed last fall when the water level was high.

“And then the river receded underneath that, and with that what we’re getting is shelf ice,” she said. So you get out on the river ice, that’s that high ice, and you may break through.”

Dimon said race organizers have decided to stay off the Yukon River. All Quest checkpoints are now on the road system and Dimon said the entry deadline has been extended until Friday as the easier logistics might attract a few more mushers.

“Because you don’t have to get stuff ready and fly it out, we’re hoping that will help some folks go: oh yeah let’s do this,” she said.

The 550-mile sled dog race will still start in Fairbanks on Feb. 4, and run to Two Rivers, Mile 101, Central and Circle, but instead of continuing to Eagle and Chicken and finishing in Tok, mushers will turn around at Circle.

“Bringing them back to Two Rivers…from Two Rivers they’re going to have a 4-hour layover there and then they will head toward North Pole and the Flood Control Project, down to the Tanana River, out to Nenana,” she said. “A 6-hour layover in Nenana for the final layover, the final stop, and then they’ll come back to Fairbanks.”   

Dimon said the finish is currently slated to be at the Pump House Restaurant. The race routes from North Pole to Nenana and on to Fairbanks largely make use of existing trails, and Dimon noted that the Tanana River ice is reported to be in good condition.

“Some of our board members were out on the ice this past weekend and they said it’s like a superhighway out there,” she said.

Fifteen mushers, including defending champion Brent Sass, are signed up for the 550. Yukon Quest Alaska organization is also running two shorter races. All three are scheduled to start Saturday, Feb. 4, on the Chena River in downtown Fairbanks. 

There is also a Yukon Quest race in Canada on Feb. 11, starting in White Horse. The Yukon Quest used to be a 1,000-mile sled dog race between Alaska and Canada, but the relationship between the Alaska and Canadian organizations fell apart last year.

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Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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