'Like seeing an old friend': Mushers, spectators glad to be back at Yukon Quest after year hiatus

Nathaniel Hamlyn edged out Martine LeLevier by two minutes to win the 160-kilometre YQ100 race while three-time Yukon Quest winner Brent Sass has the lead in the YQ300 as of Monday afternoon.

Nathaniel Hamlyn first to finish YQ100; mushers in YQ300 expected to finish Tuesday

The Yukon Quest 2022 start line at Shipyards Park in Whitehorse on Saturday. After being cancelled in 2021, the Yukon Quest made a comeback this year with four smaller races rather than the traditional 1,600-kilometre race between Whitehorse and Fairbanks, Alaska. (Vincent Bonnay/Radio-Canada)

It was a close finish for the first Yukon Quest race to take place in the Yukon since 2020.

Nathaniel Hamlyn edged out Martine LeLevier by two minutes in the 160-kilometre YQ100 race, which went from Whitehorse to Braeburn. They were followed by the five other mushers in the field in the following order: Illana Kingsley, Louve Tweddell, Lori Tweddell, Katherine Lapointe and Jonathan Alsberghe.

Hamlyn said in a Facebook post after he won that the first part of the race went a little slower than expected because of the overflow of the rivers and the amount of fresh snow. He said the second part of the race — which took place after resting a mandatory six hours following six hours of being on the course — "was on rock solid trails but ended up being 4+ hours of slamming up and down on moguls that never ended, complete momentum-killing terrain."

Musher Nathaniel Hamlyn with one of his dogs at the 2018 Yukon Quest. He came in last that year. This year, Hamlyn won the YQ100 race, edging out Martine LeLevier by two minutes. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

The Yukon Quest 100 is one of two races taking place this year in the Yukon, while two other Yukon Quest races were held earlier this month in Alaska. Traditionally, the Yukon Quest is a 1,600-kilometre (1,000 miles) race between Whitehorse and Fairbanks, Alaska.

Organizers decided to run four shorter races this year, two in Alaska and two in the Yukon.

The other race in the Yukon is the 482-kilometre YQ300, which is expected to finish sometime Tuesday morning.

Both races started Saturday afternoon in Whitehorse.

Excitement in the air

The excitement in the air at the start of the races on Saturday was palpable.

Jess Heath was there with her mother and daughter, both of whom had never seen a dog sled race.

"I used to be a vet on the Quest so it's very exciting to be able to share it with [them]," Heath said.

Nancy Thompson and Tom Babington, from the U.K., decided to start their trip to Canada in Whitehorse when she heard about the race.

"It's pretty cool. We've never seen anything like this before," she said.

Kat Lapointe, who lives in Fort Smith, N.W.T., participated in her first Yukon Quest race this year. Her father, Jacques, traveled from Gatineau, Que., to support her. (Vincent Bonnay/Radio-Canada)

Jacques Lapointe traveled from Gatineau, Que., to support his daughter Katherine who is participating in the Yukon Quest for the first time.

He was helping his daughter and her boyfriend, John Morrison, who both live in Fort Smith, N.W.T., with all the preparations for the race, including taking care of the dogs.

"The time flew so fast," he said. "It took right up to the last minute."

Sass in the lead in the YQ300

Three-time Yukon Quest winner Brent Sass, from Eureka, Alaska, is one of nine mushers in this year's YQ300.

"When we drove into Whitehorse, it felt like seeing an old friend," he said.

"It was just great to be back here," he said, adding he's been coming to Whitehorse for the Yukon Quest for the past 16 years.

Sass also won the YQ350 that took place in Alaska earlier this month.

He said the two races are very different, with the YQ300 not having as many hills.

"The race we had in Alaska had four major summits," he said. "This one is a much flatter race and there's a lot of rest in this race."

Three-time Yukon Quest winner Brent Sass with some of his dogs at this year's YQ300 race. Sass won the YQ350 that took place earlier this month in Alaska. (Vincent Bonnay/Radio-Canada)

According to the Yukon Quest's website, as of Monday afternoon, Sass was in the lead in the YQ300 race.

Among his competitors is Paul Hamlyn who moved to Whitehorse from Yellowknife about two years ago.

Hamlyn, who participated in the 2019 Yukon Quest, said he's been training his dogs, most of whom have been semi-retired from other kennels, for this race since September.

Hamlyn said most of the dogs he's running have been semi-retired. His goal is that they'll finish.

"You finally get here and get to the starting line," he said. "It feels good when you pull the hook."


  • An earlier version of this story misidentified Jess Heath as Nancy Heath.
    Feb 22, 2022 12:46 PM CT

With files from Anna Desmarais