VIDEO: Mushers gear up for grueling Yukon Quest sled dog race

The international race kicks off Feb. 2, lasting several days as teams make their way to Fairbanks

Allen Moore rides along the Yukon River during the 2017 Yukon Quest. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)

Dozens of mushers from across North America will be setting out on a 1,000-mile trek with their four-legged teams as they strive to become the 2019 champion of the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.

The race kicks off Feb. 2 in Whitehorse, Yukon, featuring the iconic 1,000-mile race (1,600 kilometres) as well as the 300-mile (482 kilometres).

Thirty mushers, including reigning champion Allen Moore and past winners Matt Hall and Brent Sass, will be mushing alongside eight to 14 dogs as they compete for $21,500. Of the 30, 15 are veterans – mushers who have completed the race in past years – and seven are rookies.

A further 13 are set to compete in the 300-mile race.

Moore won the Yukon Quest on Feb. 13, 2018, crossing the finish line at Shipyards Park at 7:59 a.m. The competitors endured -40 C and heavy snowfall. Some racers took as long as two weeks to arrive at the finish line in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Meanwhile, those in the 300-mile race will wrap up in Braeburn, Yukon.

The race, which began in April 1983, has been deemed one of the most difficult sled dog races in the world because of the harsh conditions, difficult route and minimal support allowed for competitors.

Here’s a look at the mushers representing the Yukon:

Hans Gatt

There are only two people on the planet who can say they’ve won the Yukon Quest 1,000-mile race four times.

One of them, Hans Gatt, is returning to the Quest this year after “semi-retirement.”

By his own admission, Gatt isn’t out to make a statement with his return.

“Obviously, I used to race to win for the last 30 years, but this is a little different,” said Gatt. “I mean, I haven’t raced it for like eight years and I don’t have that drive anymore. I don’t have to prove anything.”

This go around, he said he’s hoping to see what his team can accomplish. Read more >

Rob Cooke

For veteran musher Rob Cooke, this year’s Yukon Quest will be special.

“It’s a bittersweet race for me,” said Cooke during an interview at his Mount Lorne home.

“My five main dogs – Maddie, Skits, Loonie, Nutter and Psycho – they’ve been racing with me since 2011 and they’ve done pretty much every race with me since 2011. … This is going to be their final race.”

The only time Cooke didn’t have that core group of Siberian huskies was in 2016, when Maddie had a litter of puppies.

“That makes me really sad – that I’m never going to be racing with them again after this. But it is also really exciting that I’m going to have this one final race with them and share the Quest trail with them one final time. I’m really looking forward to that.” Read more >

Nathaniel Hamlyn

Nathaniel Hamlyn was one of six rookies to finish last year’s Quest.

He was the red lantern winner after finishing last in the race, 13th, in a year that half the field, another 13 mushers, didn’t make it to the end.

Hamlyn is up front about last year’s run. After being forced to drop four dogs from his team in the first 160 km, he ran most of the race with just eight on the line.

“My rookie year was basically, literally, survival,” said Hamlyn during an interview at his home and kennel near Mount Lorne. “I wasn’t really interested in racing, I was just wanting to finish.” Read more >

Michelle Phillips

Yukoner Michelle Phillips is putting the final touches on preparations for her seventh Yukon Quest – her first in nearly a decade.

That’s not to say she hasn’t been racing, just not in the Quest.

“I ran the Yukon Quest six times and then I started running the Iditarod,” said Phillips. “I decided that I wanted to revisit the Quest – do something different – and my partner, Ed (Hopkins) has been running the Yukon Quest. He is a rookie and he wanted to run the Iditarod, so we decided to switch it up.”

Together, Phillips and Hopkins run Tagish Lake Kennel, home to more than 60 dogs, and – among other things – tend to finish well in the Yukon Quest. Read more >

To see full coverage of the race as the teams make their way to Whitehorse, follow Black Press Media’s Yukon News.


@ashwadhwani
ashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.ca

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