Yukon Quest sled dog race begins today in Fairbanks, Alaska

23 mushers are competing in this year's 1,600 kilometre race, from Fairbanks to Whitehorse.

23 mushers to hit the 1,600 km trail to Whitehorse on Saturday

Yukon musher Ed Hopkins is competing in the 2016 Yukon Quest sled dog race. (Cory Correia/CBC)

Veteran Yukon musher Ed Hopkins has learned a few things along the rugged, 1,600 kilometre Yukon Quest trail, which he'll be racing down for the eight time this year. Mostly, he's learned to be ready for anything and everything.

"There's all sorts of things you're going to be going through. The gamut of emotions, you know — happy, sad, laughing, crying," he said.

"You just have to be mentally tough to be a musher."

Hopkins is one of five Canadians in the race which begins Saturday in Fairbanks, Alaska. A total of 23 mushers are registered, including last year's champion Brent Sass and 2015's second-place finisher, Allen Moore. There are mushers from Japan, Sweden, and France, but most are American, including Sass and Moore.

'The trail can change in an hour with a storm, or wind, or you name it,' said Natalie Haltrich, the race's executive director in Yukon. (Radio-Canada)

The race's executive director in Yukon, Natalie Haltrich, said the trail appears to be in decent shape this year, although it "can change in an hour, with a storm, or wind, or you name it."

One part of the trail, near Dawson City, has been re-routed because of ice jams along the Yukon River.

Haltrich said there are "challenging sections" of the trail, and parts with relatively little snow — such as the homestretch from Braeburn to Whitehorse.

"What we have will suffice," she said. "It's been worse."

Warmer weather

The Yukon Quest is not the most famous sled dog race — that would be Alaska's Iditarod — but it's arguably more challenging than the Iditarod, with fewer checkpoints, higher-elevation terrain, and an earlier winter start.

This year is not shaping up to be terribly cold, but that's not necessarily good news, said musher Luc Tweddell of Whitehorse.

Yukoner Luc Tweddell was encouraged to race this year by his teenaged daughters, and by his own 'midlife crisis.' (Radio-Canada)

"The warm weather's going to be quite something. It's hard on the dogs," Tweddell said. 

"On the musher it's fine, but on the dogs it's harder to get food into them and stuff like that. So we'll see."

Tweddell has run the race once before — seven years ago — but decided to try again at the urging of his teenage daughters, who hope to follow in his footsteps once they're old enough. 

"They told me that, already. Hopefully they'll change their mind," he said, laughing. "Maybe we'll enter, the three of us. We'll see."

In the meantime, Tweddell said he'd like to finish in the top 10 this year, but he'd be happy simply to finish the race with all his dogs.

"That's my main priority," he said.


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