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Three Rookies Among the Top Ten

Alistair Maitland
Yukon Quest

Fairbanks, AK - The top three rookies in this year’s Yukon Quest have all crossed the finish line.  They all appeared pleased with their runs, but slightly shocked at the idea of doing it again.  

This year’s Yukon Quest Rookie of the Year is Willow musher Scott Smith.  He drove his team across the finish line in the wee hours of the morning Tuesday to claim fifth place.  He was bleary eyed, but smiling.
“I mean this is like an insane race," he says, bewildered.  "It’s just insane.  It’s not even a race, it’s like a survival camp or something, I don’t know.” Smith has spent most of his trip from Whitehorse traveling by himself.  A small group of fans and friends gathered at the finish line were the first people, other than those in checkpoints, he’d seen in almost a week. “Yeah, it’s been a crazy trip," he smiles. "I haven’t seen anybody since like Stepping Stone.  So we definitely ran the... we ran the Yukon Quest! I don’t even think these guys know they’re racing," he says of his dog team. "I think they think we’re on a long training run.”  

Smith made a bold move to catch the four teams in front of him when he left Dawson.  He’s the only musher to have run the 100 miles into Eagle in a straight shot.  He was hoping the strategy would make up for lost time, but he was forced to take extra rest during his run along the Yukon River into Circle.  “It actually went really good," he says.  "I did the river in three runs, but I ended up taking eight hours out of eagle, I got sick out there, so I ended up curled in my sleeping bag so that ended up throwing my game plan a little bit.”  Smith spent lots of time researching the race before he finally decided to sign up.  He says he’s not sure he’ll run it again… “It’s in the back of my mind how we would run it again, but I don’t even want to think about it right now.  I want a cold beer and warm shower.”  But he’s not writing the Quest off entirely… “I think I might go vacation back at the Iditarod after this thing, but never say never, right?  We’ll see.”

Credit Scott Chesney /
Markus Ingebretsen finished in sixth place in this year's Yukon Quest.

One rookie who’s likely to be back is Markus Ingebretsen.  The Norwegian drove a loping dog team over the finish line in the afternoon sunshine.  Ingebretsen is an adventure r at heart.  He’s tried sailing around the world.  Next year, he plans to live alone in a remote cabin in the Arctic next year.  He’s only been mushing dogs for a year and he’s pleased with his sixth place finish. “I think it’s acceptable, yeah!" he laughs. "It was great, we had a great time.  The dogs were awesome flying in here.  We had a good time on the river.”

He was greeted by this year’s fourth place finisher, Jake Berkowitz at the finish.  Berkowitz presented Ingebretsen with champagne and a bottle of Coca Cola as the musher threw fish snacks to his dog team.    “Well, you know there are some things you want, I don’t know why.  I love Coca Cola!” he smiles.

Berkowitz says he’s extremely pleased with Ingebretsen’s handling of his dog team. “It paid off.  I can’t be happier with a fourth and sixth place.  I’d take that over a first and a 15th. I mean just the depth of our kennel that we’re dealing with that right now and to have 23 out of 28 dogs at the finish is just the most special thing, the way our dogs were cared for.”

Ingebretsen plans to stay in Alaska for as long as he can.  He says he’d like to run another Quest, and potentially the Iditarod in the future.

One rookie who may not return for another Quest is Whitehorse musher, Suzie Rogan.  In Eagle, she admitted to struggling with the idea that she was running a race. “I’s a shame I’m going through this whole race too tired to really enjoy it," she says.  "and the thing that rides on me is you’re getting the dogs up too and they didn’t ask to be signed up for this.” Rogan’s final run into Fairbanks proved to be one of her longest.  She took a wrong at a complicated intersection of trails near Two Rivers and spent a number of hours turning her team back around and driving them across the finish line.

Credit Alistair Maitland / Yukon Quest
Yukon Quest
Rookie Suzie Rogan got lost on the last run, but eventually made it to the finish line... and then she got a ride home in her sled.