WHITEHORSE, Yukon - Aliy Zirkle is this year’s YQ300 winner.
The Two Rivers musher crossed the finish line about 4:53 p.m. Alaska time Sunday. The race started in Whitehorse, Yukon, at 2 p.m. Alaska time on Saturday and included a loop from the start line to Braeburn and back again.
The race was shortened to 200 miles this year because of a lack of snow. The trips to and from Braeburn were each about 100 miles.
Zirkle, of SP Kennel in Two Rivers, also won the YQ300 in 2014, more than a decade after she won a 1,000-mile Quest title in 2000.
She ran with mostly young dogs but also had two – Chena and Five – who were on her husband Allen Moore’s 1,000-mile team last year when he captured his third Quest title.
Marcelle Fressineau took second, and Melissa Schenke finished third in the YQ300. Madeline Rubida was fourth, while Paul Hamlyn rounded out the top five.
Gatt first to Pelly
Four-time 1,000-mile Quest champion Hans Gatt was the first to reach Pelly Crossing, the third checkpoint on the Canada side located about 250 miles from the start line in Whitehorse.
The Whitehorse musher, who is racing in the Quest for the first time since 2011, arrived at 4:21 p.m. Alaska time Sunday with 10 dogs. He left for the next checkpoint, Dawson City, the final stop on the Canada side, at 10:18 p.m. Alaska time with 13 dogs. Mushers are allowed to add dogs this year.
Although Moore breezed through Pelly Crossing and only stayed for 21 minutes before heading out for Dawson in the lead, Gatt said he’s been pleased with how his team has been running.
“I don’t think about being the first one. I just focus on my dogs, and they’re looking good,” Gatt said. “We haven’t done anything special; they just have run the way they’ve run the last 2,000 miles of training.”
Gatt was received by Chief Sharon Nelson of Selkirk First Nation and was presented with a pair of beaver mitts by artist Freda Alfred for being the first to the checkpoint.
The mitts will likely come in handy, as he said the only trouble he’s had during the first two days of the race has been battling the cold, which stuck around minus 35 for much of Saturday and Sunday.
“I’d be a lot happier if it was a few degrees warmer,” Gatt said. “I’m not dealing with the cold very well. It’s pretty miserable out there.”
Gatt’s performance has been one of the key talking points for the media following the journey to Fairbanks, though he said this year’s race doesn’t feel like those of the past.
“I’m feeling like I’m an old man,” he said. “It’s not like it used to be.”
Brent Sass, who owns and operates Wild and Free Mushing in Eureka, Alaska, was the only other musher to leave for Dawson before press time. The 2015 Quest champion arrived at Pelly with 10 dogs at 10:06 p.m. Alaska time and left with a full team of 14 dogs just one minute after Gatt left.
Matt Hall, Denis Tremblay, Michelle Phillips, Paige Drobny and Isabelle Travadon were all resting at Pelly at press time.
They won again?
Despite it being Super Bowl Sunday, very little attention was spent on the big game that was played in Atlanta. Hours before kickoff, Kerry Quade, who is a handler for Misha Wiljes, said she had more important things to worry about.
“I’m like, ‘Who cares about football? There’s a dog race happening,’” said Quade, who now lives in Chugiak, Alaska, but grew up in Peabody, Massachusetts.
Few people at the Pelly Crossing checkpoint even noticed the New England Patriots won a 13-3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams, though one woman was overhead saying, “Tom Brady won again,” to the person across the table from her.
When you’re taking part in the Quest, there’s little time for football.
Follow News-Miner sports writer Brad Joyal on Twitter at @FDNMQuest for updates from the Yukon Quest trail.