Of the two major long distance races in our region, the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race is my favorite. It doesn't receive the press that the 'larger' Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race receives, but it is reputed to be a more challenging race than the other. It also doesn't have the big-dollar pretentiousness of the I'rod. It does, however, have the mushers and dogs to make it a truly world class event.
In odd-numbered years the Yukon Quest starts in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory and ends in Fairbanks, Alaska. In even numbered years the course is reversed, running from Fairbanks to Whitehorse. Based on the distance chart published on the Quest website, the trail is about 991 miles long.
Two factors set the Quest apart from the I'rod. First is the vast distances between check points. Some mushers refer to the I'rod as "the world's longest stage race", because the furthest distance between checkpoints in that race is the stretch between Ophir and Iditarod, is only 9o miles. By my calculation, the average distance between checkpoints in the I'rod is only 46 miles.
By contast, the longest distance between checkpoints in the Quest is 201 miles between Pelly Crossing and Dawson City and the average distance between checkpoints is 124 miles, more than twice that of the more famous race.
the trail between
The seconed factor is a combination of climate and terrain. Run in mid-February, the Quest is usually much colder than the Iditarod (as in MUCH colder), and with four major summits to climb and descend, the terrain offers challenges that are every bit as formidable, if not more so, than the Iditarod.
Make no mistake, the Iditarod is a worthy challenge for anybody and his or her dogs, but I think the Quest is more so.
The Quest started yesterday, and many of the teams are already in and out of the first checkpoint at Braeburn, Yukon Territory, 100 miles from the start. The front-runners made that 100 mile run at an astounding average of over 10 miles per hour, so they obviously weren't camping out along the way. That's a fast, long run by anyone's reckoning.
The Yukon Quest officials doe a great job of keeping their website updated, much better than the Iditarod - and they don't charge you money to access "the good stuff". If you'd like to join the excitement and follow the real toughest sled dog race on earth, just click HERE and enjoy the race.