It's the (Yukon) Journey: Mushers organize race to fill gap left by cancelled Yukon Quest

·3 min read
The long-running Yukon Quest international sled dog race was cancelled this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so some Yukon mushers have organized an alternative event — the Yukon Journey — which starts Wednesday. (Philippe Morin/CBC - image credit)
The long-running Yukon Quest international sled dog race was cancelled this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so some Yukon mushers have organized an alternative event — the Yukon Journey — which starts Wednesday. (Philippe Morin/CBC - image credit)

Mushers will hit the trail Wednesday in a new dog sled race — the Yukon Journey.

It's been organized as a sort of replacement this year for the territory's major annual dog sled event, the Yukon Quest. That race, which typically draws mushers and fans from around the world, was cancelled this winter because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Everyone's been working hard for the last few weeks to kind of make this happen and come to fruition," said Steve Hossack, who's organizing communications for the Yukon Journey.

"We've got a great field. We've got 11 mushers and seven of them are veteran mushers. So it should make for a very, very exciting race."

The 375-kilometre Yukon Journey is much shorter than the 1,200-kilometre Yukon Quest, and it takes place entirely in Canada. The race starts in Pelly Crossing at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, and ends in Whitehorse.

The original plan was for mushers to run from Dawson City to Whitehorse, but Hossack said that had to change because of some pandemic-related complications.

Mushers and organizers of the Yukon Journey meet earlier this month to prepare for the race.
Mushers and organizers of the Yukon Journey meet earlier this month to prepare for the race.

He says the race was organized by local mushers to fill a gap left by Yukon Quest, but it's not meant to imitate that higher-profile event. The Yukon Journey is focused on dog care, he says, and there are more mandatory rest stops along the way.

"It is a different flavour than the Quest," Hossak said.

"You know, it's got a different set of rules and we're hoping that that might sort of influence other dog sporting events to kind of maybe rethink their policies and race rules a little bit."

It will also differ from the Yukon Quest in that there will be no online race tracker for people to follow the mushers' progress in real time. He says the best way for people to stay updated is to watch the race's Facebook page.

Lots of snow

Trail crews have been busy in recent weeks grooming and marking the trail. Hossack says it's looking good.

"We've had lots of snow, so that's great. You know, it offers a really good run in between some of these checkpoints but it also offers up some adversity — there's a few banks that we've heard that are the potential tipping corners, especially if mushers are carrying straw or anything like that," he said.

There's been no shortage of snow this year which has helped prepare the Yukon Journey trail. 'You know, it offers a really good run in between some of these checkpoints but it also offers up some adversity,' says Steve Hossack.
There's been no shortage of snow this year which has helped prepare the Yukon Journey trail. 'You know, it offers a really good run in between some of these checkpoints but it also offers up some adversity,' says Steve Hossack.

Hossack said the first mushers are likely to arrive in Whitehorse by Friday afternoon, with the rest expected before the end of the weekend. He's discouraging people from gathering around the finish line, though.

"Obviously, we can't stop people. So if people want to stand along the trail in sort of a remote section in a spot where they would typically watch Quest mushers run by, that's fine. We just ask them to, you know, follow all of the territorial COVID[-19] measures that are in place."

Hossack says the race has been getting "tons of support" from local businesses, so there's already at least $10,000 in prize money up for grabs. Every musher who crosses the finish line will take home a cash prize at least as big as their entry fee, he says. They'll also get a souvenir belt buckle.

It's still an an open question whether the Yukon Journey will live beyond 2021. Yukon Quest organizers have already said they expect their race to be back next year.

"There's been a little bit more and more discussion about the potential to run [the Yukon Journey] again in the future," Hossack said.

"Right now, we kind of just have our eyes on Wednesday as our big day."