The Summit Quest 300 sled dog race is set to start Saturday, but it will be going off quietly without the usual downtown Fairbanks fanfare. KUAC Quest reporter Lex Treinen explains.
In a normal year, the Yukon Quest start is a crowded event in the heart of Fairbanks on the winding Chena River. This year, the Summit Quest start is a little less scenic.
“They've plowed out a really nice start area right here next to Pleasant Valley store. And we'll be staging right now 21 dog teams out of it,” said Race Marshsall Doug Grilliot.
The start area at the Pleasant Valley store isn’t much to look at. Except for a truck and a minivan that race officials brought to check out the venue, the lot is empty. Grilliot says that being away from the bustle of the city center is a good thing during a global pandemic.
“Becky Alexander, who owns Pleasant Valley store out here, invited us and said we were more than welcome to have the start out here. So to keep it a little more isolated and a little more out of town,” he said.
And there was also another reason for the move:
“Downtown Fairbanks has always been really good to us. For the start, there is some bridge construction going on down there now by the river. And there are there's some equipment that was kind of going to be on our way,” he said.
While officials are trying to avoid some of the crowds, they’re still happy to have fans out to watch, just don’t expect the usual fanfare. Mushers are starting at a spot they normally pass some 40 miles into their race, but the new start line move won’t take away any distance. That’s because racers won’t head directly towards the next checkpoint.
“The mushers are going to do a loop out in the Two Rivers area and end up back at the Pleasant Valley Community Center for the first layover,” he said.
After those first 40 miles, they’ll head out on their first challenge over Rosebud Summit. Grilliot says that while conditions could change before the official Friday briefing with mushers, so far, it’s looking good.
“The whole race is the course has been over at least once. It's a little wind blown on top of Eagle summit. But the snow on the backside where the big steep descent is is really good. And there's no real concern. So there's no overflow up there right now, which is really, really good,” he said.
But, he says, there are always suprises on the Quest trail.