Fairbanks, AK - The Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race will have a new set of rules in 2015. Overall rest time has been decreased by two hours, but mushers will be required to make more mandatory stops along the 1000 mile trail.
Driving a dog team between Fairbanks and Whitehorse used to take 12 days or more, but in the last few years the fastest sled dogs have completed the run in just over nine days. Eureka musher Brent Sass says the addition of more mandatory stops fundamentally alters the race. “It’s huge. It’s huge. It’s a huge change!” he exclaims.
A mandatory 36 hour layover at the race’s midway point in Dawson City has been cut by 12 hours. Sass says that will improve overall dog care. “There may be a dog that has a wrist injury that you’ve been milking and he’s doing fine but it’s definitely getting sore," explains Sass. "You know when you get to Dawson, you know 36 hours you can get rid of a wrist injury. With 24 and a bad wrist injury? Not necessarily.”
Other changes are likely to shake up race strategy.
A second mandatory stop in Eagle, near the Canadian border, will increased from four to six hours. Next year, mushers will also be required to take two additional six hour layovers at a checkpoint of their choosing in the first and last third of the race. An eight hour mandatory layover at the last checkpoint before the finish line remains in place.
Yukon Quest Executive Director Marti Steury says the decision is meant to help sleep-deprived, exhausted mushers. “I find it to be a progressive move forward in looking at the overall success of the race and it seems to me that because the speed has changed so much in the last few years," says Steury, "that this is something that is going to be of assistance and that’s our hope is that it helps the mushers.”
Last year’s race saw teams spread out over more than 200 miles of trail. Steury says floating stops means race personnel can keep up with teams running at both the front and back of the pack.
Two-time champion Allen Moore of two Rivers plans to run a fifth Quest in 2015, but he says the changes will force him to rethink his plan. He also says the race could become more competitive. “It will probably draw more interest from a lot of people who haven’t thought of running the race just by changing it up a little bit," sayss Moore.
The race organization has struggled in the last few years to draw interest from long distance mushers due in part to a small purse and a notoriously challenging trail. Mushers will sign up for the race in August.