North

COVID-19 is not stopping long-running Yukon sled dog race this year

Organizers say they've worked out a plan to run the Percy this year, but with changes.

Organizers say they've worked out a plan to run the Percy this year, but with changes

Jason Biasetti, left, and Dawson postmaster Daniel Vigliotti handing off the ceremonial mail bag in 2020 with Biasetti taking the bag on a short ride on the Yukon River. (Andrea Magee)

The Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Race will be back this winter after being cancelled last winter due to COVID-19 concerns.

The annual sled dog race from Dawson City, Yukon, to Eagle, Alaska, and back is set to run March 6, but with big changes, said race president Gaby Sgaga.

"It was a really tough decision because, of course, we care about the community, we're a community race and we wanted to really think about it," Sgaga said

"But, you know, we've come up with a COVID[-19] plan. We're in dialogue with the chief medical officer's office. We've looked at other people organizing races."

Sgaga said this year's race will run from Dawson City to Forty Mile, Yukon, and back for a total distance of 180 kilometres. The pre-pandemic distance was 340 kilometres.

The route this year will see the mushers take the Top of the World highway and then the road to Forty Mile. They will travel on the Yukon River back to Dawson City, said Sgaga.

Sometime in the 1930s, Percy DeWolfe is shown handing a sack of mail to RCMP Cst. Joe Kessler at Forty Mile. (Yukon Archives)

She said the number of racing teams is limited to 20 and the cabin at Forty Mile will be closed to the mushers. All of the people involved in the race must be Yukon residents, Sgaga said.

She said people in Dawson are looking forward to it.

"We haven't had too many events lately. Of course it could always be cancelled depending," Sgaga said.

"But you know, if we're cautious and we're careful, why don't we go ahead and plan it and maybe that'll bring a little bit of excitement to the community and to mushers," she said. 

West Dawson resident Jason Biasetti won the last three Percy DeWolfe races.

He said either he or a friend will be racing his team in the race.

"I'm very happy they're going through with it. It's a big event here in Dawson and it allows all the mushers from Whitehorse and the surrounding area to to participate in something," Biasetti said.  

The website for the Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Race says it began in 1977 to honour DeWolfe who carried mail by dog team, horse and boat between Dawson City and Eagle from 1910 to 1949 earning him the title, Iron Man of the North.

The first musher out of the gate always carries a bag of mail.

While the race was cancelled in 2020, there was a ceremonial mailbag handoff between musher Biasetti and Dawson postmaster Daniel Vigliotti with Biasetti taking the bag on a short ride on the Yukon River.

Registration for the race opened Jan. 1 and closes Feb. 28.

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