The Yukon Quest

Locals call Fairbanks the dog mushing capital of the world. and actually that comes as no small surprise considering that Fairbanks has three major sled dog races each year.  Respectively they are  The Yukon Quest, The Iditerod and The North American World Championships.

In early February One of the high points of the year in Fairbanks is the Yukon Quest. Called the toughest dog race in the world the Yukon Quest is a grueling 1000 mile journey across the frozen wilderness between the city of Whitehorse, in the Canadian Yukon, and Fairbanks Alaska.  Let me just say this, there is nothing small about this race at all. Not only is it the longest and toughest but it also gets world wide television and radio coverage in over 120 countries.

This map actually comes from the Yukon Quest's web site

An interesting nuance about this race is that it alternates running from Fairbanks to Whitehorse on even numbered years and from Whitehorse to Fairbanks on odd numbered years.

As a small aside let me mention that in Alaska they don't call this sport dog sled racing they call it "mushing, or dog mushing." If you come up here to witness this event first hand you might find it handy to know a little of the lingo.

Don't be fooled by the bright sunlight in these photos. This event takes place in early February and the temperature outside are typically a balmy 15 - 20 below zero.  If you'll notice many of the event's spectators in these pictures are not wearing hats, nor are they bundled up like eskimos.  That is due in part because Fairbanks is nestled in the Tanana Valley surrounded by mountains on all sides, so there seldom is much of a wind chill factor here.

Another reason is contrary to what you may think not all cold is equal.  In Fairbanks the cold is a very dry cold -- so much so it that it doesn't penetrate your clothing all that well.  When the temperatures warm up to zero or 10 degrees you can typically see people walking around in flannel shirts or light sweat jackets.  In temperatures between the twenties and thirties I've seen people jogging in shorts and T-shirts.

In the background is Golden heart park
The flags are on the Cushman Street bridge

I wouldn't really care to venture a guess as to how many people from Fairbanks were lined up along the banks of the Chena River year to year for the Yukon Quest, but they number in the thousands and line up along the bank for miles.

 The 20' ice archway was built by Ice Alaska 

I think one of the things that surprised me the most about this was the dogs.  In all the movies I've ever seen all the dog teams where pure bred Alaskan Huskies. Well in all the Dog teams I've seen since I've been up here I never saw one with even a single Husky in it.  On top of the the dogs of choice for this sport seems to be small lanky mutts, of which it can seldom be said that any two are alike.

This is a custom dog team truck that can carry up to 20 sled dogs.  Each dog has his own private room with a view with plenty of room to stretch out and turn around and typically the owners put a fresh bed of hay in their stalls daily.  I've lived in Georgia, Virginia, and New york, and as a salesman I traveled all up and down the eastern seaboard and as far west as Texas and Oklahoma and I have never seen any vehicles used to transport dogs that remotely resembles one of these these.  And yet every day in Fairbanks and Vicinity winter and summer you see a dozen or more of these five star dog hotels driving by.

These last five photos are from 
the North American World Championship.

I know its a bit difficult to see, but down the center of the street in both of these photographs is a long harness onto which the dogs are hitched in pairs.  These harnesses can hold up to 18 sled dogs.  Here you can actually see how small these dogs really are.  Having been up close and personal with some of these dogs I can tell you that most of these dogs wouldn't even come up to my knee.

The one thing I can definitely tell you about these dogs is that they live for mushing.  Yipping and yapping excitedly and wagging their tails like mad they practically climb into the racing harnesses all by themselves.  And contrary to the image of the cruel overweight sled dog owner with a whip that you see in old cartoons and movies -- These dog mushers love their animals and they themselves are out there running, and pushing and steering their sled and dog team for all their worth.  I'll tell you what, just watching them out there going  through the paces wears me out.  While these six photos are not from the Yukon Quest I put them here so that you could see
These three photos 
are of the same musher 
and dog team 

I was also surprised by how fast these dog teams can move.  My camera has automatic advance, and with only seconds between each shot this how far this dog team was able to travel during this three photograph sequence.


For the most up to date information, facts, and photographs you should visit the official Yukon Quest web page.

Adventure Alaska offers a unique tour for this event, a six day adventure trip that actually takes you right out where the race is happening.  Space for this exotic trip is very limited so you need to book this one way in advance.

An interesting web page that offers you insights into the meaning of some of that all important lingo associated with dog mushing.

From the Daily News Mine we have a nice page with photo spread

A true wealth of information is located on The Daily News Miner's index listing the stories that it's reporters wrote during the 1999 and 2000 Yukon Quest.

This site give you a brief history of the Yukon Quest

The official Yukon quest online store

If you have a site with a dozen or more Yukon Quest photo's, or if you have any comments or words of wisdom or if you'd like to send me some of your personal dog mushing photos to create a separate gallery page you can E-mail me below.

Alaskan Dreams E-mail