Yukon Quest launches in Whitehorse this weekend and continues to evolve

A dog at the 2022 Yukon Quest YQ100 race. The 2023 Yukon Quest begins in Whitehorse on Saturday.  (Anna Desmarais/CBC - photo credit)

A dog at the 2022 Yukon Quest YQ100 race. The 2023 Yukon Quest begins in Whitehorse on Saturday. (Anna Desmarais/CBC – photo credit)

On Saturday morning, 16 mushers with teams of up to 14 dogs will gather at Shipyards Park in Whitehorse for the start of the 2023 Yukon Quest Sled Dog Race.

This is the second year in the Quest’s 38-year history that the once-international race has come to an end in Dawson City, Yukon, and the second year that the event has offered a shorter race length. This year, in addition to the 402-kilometer Quest 250 to Pelly Crossing, five mushers will contest the 160-kilometer Quest 100 to Braeburn.

“The beauty of the 100 mile race is that participating teams have the opportunity to experience the full start of the Yukon Quest race, the Yukon Quest checkpoint and the finish line of the Yukon Quest,” said the event’s Operations Manager, John Hopkins Hill.

“For many of these smaller kennels, this is probably the first truly serious racing experience they will have.”

Hopkins-Hill says opportunities like this are critical to keeping the dog sled competition relevant.

“The vast majority of people getting into the sport these days are doing so more slowly than maybe in years past. There are many more smaller recreational kennels with fewer than, say, 15 dogs in the Whitehorse area,” he said.

Vincent Bonnay/Radio Canada

Vincent Bonnay/Radio Canada

The cost of owning a dog might have something to do with it.

Musher Connor McMahon of Carcross, Yukon, estimates that it costs nearly $1,000 a year to feed a dog. When he started five years ago, he says the cost was about $300 a year.

To deal with this, McMahon tries to keep his pack small. At the moment there are 26 working dogs in this pack.

Musher Michelle Phillips of Tagish, a nine-time Yukon Quest veteran, has 65 dogs.

“You know, it just means we have less money for groceries and other expenses,” says Phillips. “Our dogs come first, we’re fine.”

Julien Schroeder/Yukon Quest

Julien Schroeder/Yukon Quest

Hopkins Hill says the race must adapt to changes in both climate and economy, and he hopes the prize money – $35,000 for the race to Dawson – will provide a strong financial incentive for participants.

McMahon says it’s not the prize money or even the competition that keeps him going.

“It’s all very, very secondary to just getting out there with the dogs and experiencing it,” he said of Yukon Quest.

“And that’s what’s worth the cost and the worry of everything. Money just changed to something I use to buy dog ​​food a long time ago.”


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