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Yukon Quest sled dog race begins today in Fairbanks, Alaska

The Yukon Quest international sled dog race begins Saturday morning in Alaska, and race officials say the initial stretch of trail is in 'excellent shape' this year.

15 mushers are registered this year — half as many as last year

A musher in the 2018 Yukon Quest. The annual race begins Saturday in Fairbanks, Alaska. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

The Yukon Quest international sled dog race begins Saturday morning in Alaska, and race officials say the initial stretch of trail is in "excellent shape" this year.

Fifteen mushers are scheduled to take off from Fairbanks at 11 a.m. local time. They're headed for Whitehorse, about 1,600 kilometres down the trail.

It's a relatively small roster of mushers this year. Recent years have seen at least 20 people entered in the race, and last year, there were 30.

The 2019 champ, Brent Sass of Alaska, is back to defend his title. He'll have to contend again with fellow Alaskan Allen Moore, who won the race in 2018 and finished third last year.

2019 Yukon Quest champ Brent Sass of Alaska is back to defend his title this year. (Robin Wood/Fairbanks Daily News-Miner/The Associated Press)

About half of the mushers this year are American, and there are five Canadians — Yukoners Rob Cooke and Michelle Phillips, Albertans Jason Campeau and Pat Noddin, and Denis Tremblay of Quebec.

Noddin is a race rookie, but the other Canadians are all Yukon Quest veterans. 

On Thursday, race officials said the trail on the Alaska side of the border was looking good. 

"Plenty of snow coverage, very little overflow and virtually no jumble ice," reads a news release.

Mushers were told to watch for wildlife, though, as "trailbreakers reported high levels of moose and caribou activity in several areas," the release says.

Mushers will get an update on trail conditions in Yukon once they cross the border and arrive at the race's halfway point in Dawson City.

Dogs wait for the start of the 2018 Yukon Quest in Fairbanks, Alaska. (Robin Wood/Fairbanks Daily News-Miner/Associated Press)

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