Extreme cold sets in on Yukon Quest Trail

Feb 8, 2015

Sled dogs take off down the trail for the 32nd Annual Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race
Credit Emily Schwing / KUAC

  Braeburn, YK - Frigid weather set in across Canada’s Yukon this week. Mushers who left the start line of the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race Saturday were uneasy about a forecast that’s calling for subzero temperatures by the end of the week.

Midday temperatures hovered around 30 degrees below zero, as dog teams left Whitehorse.  But Tagish musher Ed Hopkins didn’t seem to mind.

“I like a challenge, I am built for cold weather, I don’t know I just don’t get cold, so I’m not worried about it,” he said.

Other mushers aren’t as confident about running their teams north straight into a head wind. “You know, it’s a mile at a time,” said Scott Smith of Willow. 

The northern lights danced over the Braeburn checkpoint Saturday night, where temperatures dropped to colder than 30 below zero
Credit Pat Kane / Yukon Quest

  Smith said says his dogs trained in much milder weather.  “I think the race is going to kind of shake itself out here.  We’ll know by Pelly [Crossing] what’s going on a little bit and obviously by Dawson things are going to start to clarify.”

Both mushers and sled dogs risk dehydration and frostbite. If dogs left the start line running hard at a lope, they could have a hard time recovering from even a single long run.

But Norwegian Joar Ulsom said his dogs are ready. They are wearing custom-made coats from Norway. “When I dress for these cold races, I always wear wool from the inside out and as a layer to protect from the wind,” he explained. “I thought that would be the same case with the dogs. Someone in Norway started making dog coats with wool in them, so they’re really warm,” said Ulsom.

Joar Ulsom greets his lead dogs just before they leave the start line. His dogs are wearing custom coats lined with wool to stay warm.
Credit Pat Kane / Yukon Quest

This early in the race, it’s crucial mushers are attentive to their dogs. Environment Canada has issued an Extreme Cold Warning for Dawson City, the race’s halfway point. Temperatures there could dip below minus 50 degrees.