North

2021 Yukon Quest to split in two: one race in Alaska, one in Yukon

Citing the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Yukon Quest's organizers announced Wednesday that next year's race will be split in two: one race in Alaska, the other in Yukon.

The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are said to have played a role in the decision

Alaska musher Brent Sass at the 2020 Yukon Quest finish line in Whitehorse. (Steve Silva/CBC)

Citing the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Yukon Quest's organizers announced Wednesday that next year's race will be split in two: one race in Alaska, the other in Yukon.

The trail of the renowned sled-dog race normally stretches about 1,600 kilometres, between Fairbanks, Alaska, and Whitehorse.

"We had to sort of think outside the box, just because of the limitations in travel, that we would be severely impacted by for the upcoming race year," said Shayna Hammer, executive director of the Yukon Quest International Association (Canada).

The border between the two countries is closed to non-essential travel until at least July 21. Border restrictions were extended twice prior because of the pandemic.

Even if the border is reopened, Hammer said, the organization would have to consider the impact of travel, including by volunteers and race personnel, to communities in the territory.

"We need to look at what's going to be best, what's safe for everyone, and then what's feasible for the organization, as well," she said.

Pixie Ingram, a spokesperson for the race, said that she wasn't aware of a split like this in the event's decades-long history.

The Dawson City checkpoint in the 2020 Yukon Quest sled dog race. (Steve Silva/CBC)

The event's joint board of directors made the call, according to a news release.

"The Alaska office is working to overcome their current financial situation," the document reads.

"We've weighed what we can feasibly commit to for the 2021 race season and have determined that it makes the most sense to scale back this year and focus our efforts and resources on a shorter race in Alaska," Dave Dalton, president of the Alaska board of directors of the race, said in the news release.

The potential for major restrictions, should COVID-19 become a bigger problem in territory, and the organization required, including by racers, several of whom live outside of North America, are some of the reasons for deciding to split the race more than half a year in advance, Hammer said.

She said the organization also wanted sponsors to have some early understanding of what the races will entail.

Hammer said the organization has been considering the financial situations of sponsors and mushers amid the pandemic.

Many mushers' incomes are dependent on sled-dog trips and other tourism offerings, which have been negatively impacted over the past few months, she said.

"I think it's safe to say: shorter race, lower entry fees, for sure," Hammer said.

This year, 15 mushers participated in the race, half as many as the year prior.

Mushers will be able to sign up for the next race starting in September, as opposed to August like the last time.

With files from the CBC's Dave White

With files from Dave White

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