No vaccinations required for Yukon Quest this winter

The Yukon Quest sled dog race returns this winter, in an altered form — and no COVID-19 vaccinations will be required. Alaska's Iditarod, meanwhile, will require participants to have their shots.

Traditional 1,600-kilometre race to be replaced this winter by two shorter races, in Yukon and Alaska

Yukon Quest champion Brent Sass at the finish line in Whitehorse in 2020. Sass is signed up to run the Yukon Quest again this winter, which will consist of two races on either side of the Yukon/Alaska border. (Steve Silva/CBC)

The Yukon Quest sled dog race returns this winter, in an altered form — and no COVID-19 vaccinations will be required.

"Participants, spectators, anybody who is coming to the Quest — we do not have a rule that they have to be vaccinated, at all," said Bonnie Michaudville, the event's executive director in Canada.

"The only rule would be if we have people coming across the border from Alaska ... They have to follow the guidelines coming into Canada."

It's a different story with the other major dog sled race, Alaska's Iditarod. Officials with that event announced last week that they were "hyper focused to ensure zero community transmission" of COVID-19, and so COVID-19 vaccinations would be required for all participants in the 2022 race.

"This applies to the entire Iditarod community, mushers, staff, contractors, volunteers, pilots, veterinarians, etc.," reads a news release from Iditarod officials.

"This decision was made in concert with feedback from rural Alaska and is reflective of the Iditarod's broad community health consciousness."

Michaudville said the Yukon Quest set its own rules a while ago, before there was much talk about vaccine passports anywhere.

"I don't want to say we're not worried about COVID, but yeah, it just was not a huge topic of conversation to make everybody have that, you know, double vaccination," Michaudville said.

"And actually, when we did the rules, the whole country wasn't having that vaccine passport. It wasn't a thing back then."

No 1,600-kilometre event this year

This year's Yukon Quest will be significantly different than in years past because of the pandemic, and a lack of qualified mushers.

Michaudville said the pandemic has been financially hard on a lot of mushers and their kennels. There simply weren't enough signing up to run the traditional 1,600-kilometre race.

"You can't have a thousand-mile race for five people," she said.

"That's why the joint boards made the decision not to have the thousand-mile race this year, in 2022. The goal is to work towards a thousand-mile race in 2023." 

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

This winter there will be two shorter races on either side of the border. The first, a 885-kilometre (500-mile) race, will start in Fairbanks on Feb. 5, and the second, a 482-kilometre (300-mile) race in Whitehorse, begins on Feb. 19. 

Only two mushers, both veterans, are signed up for both races — Alaska's Brent Sass (a former champion), and Yukon's Michelle Phillips.

There are also two other, shorter races planned on either side of the border.

Michaudville said even though things will be different, most people seem excited to have any sort of event this winter. Last year, there was no Yukon Quest race.

"Everybody understands the whole world's been turned upside down by COVID, and everyone's just happy that there's going to be races on both sides."


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