Trail looking good after more snow, colder weather

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The start of the 2006 Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race is six days away, and despite a difficult training season and unusual weather patterns, the 1,000-mile trail from Fairbanks to Whitehorse is ready to go.

The start of the 2006 Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race is six days away, and despite a difficult training season and unusual weather patterns, the 1,000-mile trail from Fairbanks to Whitehorse is ready to go.

"It’s good," Race Marshal Mike McCowan said on Saturday. "It’s not a neat snow trail or anything, but we’ve got a good trail to mush."

The Quest begins on Feb. 11 at 11 a.m. on the Chena River underneath the Cushman Street Bridge.

Mushers and race officials were concerned throughout December and January that unseasonably warm temperatures and low snowfall would cause problems. But the recent cold snap in the Interior and more snow in the Yukon means that the Quest trail will not need to be altered.

"There are no plans whatsoever to change (the route)," said McCowan. "We’re not going to alter or do anything with the prescribed course."

McCowan recently returned home to Delta Junction after a few days checking out the Canadian side of the course with Race Manager Wendel Carey.

"From the reports I had, it looks real good," said McCowan. "The ice on the (Yukon) river is not an issue, there’s no jumble ice. The trail’s been broke.

"With the cold temperatures, it’s been hard to keep it open," he said. "But it’s been broke in and people are going to be working on it up until the race."

Patrols of Canadian Rangers (reserve units of the Canadian Forces) have been working to break the Quest trail from Whitehorse to the Alaska border.

The patrols check ice conditions on rivers, clear brush and downed trees from the trail, and mark the trail and any potentially dangerous obstacles that mushers should be aware of.

On the Alaska side, a large army of volunteers serve as trail breakers, accomplishing the same tasks as the Canadian Rangers.

Small field

After a group of 31 entrants originally committed to run the Quest, the field for the 2006 race has been trimmed to 22 mushers.

That is two less than last year’s field of 24 and is a new record low.

McCowan said that some of the nine mushers who dropped did so because they didn’t have enough qualifying races. The poor weather early in the winter prohibited other mushers from training sufficiently.

"These were unfortunate circumstances. The stars just didn’t align in their favor," said McCowan. "As always, if you want more entrants, you’re going to have to have snow and weather conditions that get better every year, and you’re going to have to have a better purse."

Quest events

The public has an opportunity to put a face to the Quest mushers at a Meet the Mushers event at Cold Spot Feeds on Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m. Fans can bring or buy a Yukon Quest poster to be autographed while enjoying pizza and other goodies. Admission is free.

The Yukon Quest Start Banquet and Draw is at the Westmark Hotel Gold Room on Thursday at 7 p.m. Mushers will draw their start position and will have the opportunity to address the public. Tickets are $45 and are available by calling the Quest office at 452-7954.

On the day of the race start, the Yukon Quest Fest will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the Chena River in downtown Fairbanks. The Downtown Association will team with the Quest to offer food, live music, games and other festivities for the entire family.

The Second Chance League will be offering $5 dogsled rides from noon to 4 p.m. as a fundraiser for its veterinary program.

Best guess

Patterned after the Nenana Ice Classic, the Yukon Quest Best Guess Classic will offer race fans a chance to follow the race and make some money.

For a $5 wager, fans can guess the official elapsed time of the winner of the race. Whoever makes the best guess wins 50 percent of the Classic ticket sales.

The classic is being run by the Downtown Association with all proceeds going to the Yukon Quest Fest. Stop by the Quest Office, the Quest Store or the Downtown Association to get tickets.

Tickets are also available at local bars such as the Big I, the Comet Club, Ivory Jack’s and the Mecca Bar.

All guesses must be in by 10:50 a.m. on Feb. 11, 10 minutes before the first team leaves the starting line on the Chena River.

Source: Daily News Miner

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