Yukon Quest 300 racecourse changed over COVID-19 restrictions

This year's race starts in Whitehorse and follows the Yukon Quest trail to Braeburn then it goes on to the north end of Madanna Lake. This checkpoint will serve as the halfway point turnaround.

The change means mushers will have to be 'a little bit more self-sufficient,' says a race organizer

The Yukon Quest event captured in 2019. (Akkada Kennel Facebook page, Yukon Quest/Whitney McLaren)

The Yukon Quest is making a return on the Canadian side this year but the Yukon Quest 300 racecourse is changing because of COVID-19 restrictions.

This year's 483-kilometre (300-mile) race will start in Whitehorse and follow the Yukon Quest trail to Braeburn, then continue to the north end of Madanna Lake. The checkpoint will serve as the halfway point turnaround.

"We regretfully have had to re-route and decline the hospitality of the communities of Carmacks and Pelly, and the homesteads of Stepping Stone and McCabe," states a news release from race organizers.

Bonnie Michaudville is the executive director of Yukon Quest International Association Canada. She said the changes being implemented for this year's Yukon Quest 300 race is to keep communities safe. (Submitted by Bonnie Michaudville)

The Yukon Quest is an annual event held in February normally stretching about 1,600 kilometres between Whitehorse and Fairbanks, Alaska. Last year, the event was cancelled on the Canadian side because of the pandemic.

Mushers are the ones for whom the course change will make the biggest difference, said Bonnie Michaudville, the executive director of Yukon Quest International Association Canada.

"They will be more in the bush and northern communities, so they will have to be a little bit more self-sufficient and think about the race a little bit differently," she said.

She added the public health restrictions means race organizers have to decrease the size of gatherings for the event, indoors and outdoors.

The changes are to keep communities — especially those with a lower vaccination rate — safer from COVID-19, said Michaudville.

"We are just being proactive," she said. "With the reality of Omicron going through, we may lose quite a few volunteers."

She said the changes signify a drawback for spectators "and also our partnerships with our communities, our First Nation communities that we normally go to that we're not going to see this year."

The race will be about 29 kilometres shorter and will finish in Whitehorse. It will remain a 300-mile (483-kilometre) qualifier for the Yukon Quest 1000, and a 300-mile qualifier for the Iditarod. The route for the 100-mile race and the Alaskan races remain the same.

According to the Yukon Quest website, this year so far, there are six people registered for the 300-mile race, and nine people registered for the 100-mile race. Both start in Whitehorse on Feb. 19.

Racers and dog handlers will have to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Entry to the Yukon races ends Feb. 12 at 3 p.m. local time.

With files from Vincent Bonnay