After a hiatus last year, the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race is back, albeit in a modified format.

Rather than a single 1,000 mile race, the 2022 Yukon Quest will be comprised of four shorter races, two in Alaska and two in Canada. The Quest will not implement a Covid-19 vaccine mandate or require mushers to take Covid tests.

Although the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race announced it will require all mushers and staff to be vaccinated against Covid-19, the Quest has no plans to do so. According to Doug Grilliot, secretary and musher representative of the Alaska Board of Directors, the boards felt that implementing a vaccine mandate was not necessary. Essentially, Grilliot explained, the race will be following the same strategy it did during the 300 mile Summit Quest last year. According to Grilliot, there were no Covid cases associated with the race.

The Quest will not implement its own Covid protocol other than what the state and boroughs will require. The Quest also is not going to ask mushers to take Covid tests at any point. However, if individual communities along the trail want to institute further precautions, Grilliot said mushers and staff will comply with them.

One difference from typical years is that mushers will not be congregating in common areas. Instead, they will be sleeping in vehicles or tents.

What to expect from the 2022 races

While the Covid-19 pandemic has interfered with all aspects of life — including long-distance dog mushing — the Yukon Quest was particularly impacted because the trail runs through two countries. Grilliot explained that the Quest boards had to make a decision about the race mid-summer. At that time “the border situation was still up in the air.”

The boards also polled mushers, and the overall response was that people faced so many logistical challenges that “We didn’t think we would get enough participation if we held a 1,000 mile race,” Grilliot said.

Although the 1,000 mile race didn’t take place last year, the Quest did hold the 300 mile Summit Quest in Alaska. The success of the Summit Quest is one reason the boards decided to run several shorter races.

They were originally just going to hold one race on each side of the border, Grilliot explained. However, he added, it “morphed” into having two races because they already had checkpoints set up.

The YQ300 and the YQ100 will be run in the Yukon, and the YQ550 and the YQ200 will be held in Alaska. Combined, the races will total 1,000 miles and will follow the historic Northern route of the race through 11 communities in Alaska and Canada.

The response from mushers so far “has been really, really good,” Grilliot said. So far, 37 mushers have signed up for the four races. Entries are open until Jan. 14, so Grilliot expects more participants.

A benefit of the format is that mushers have additional opportunities to complete qualifying races for the Iditarod and regular Yukon Quest. This is particularly beneficial for younger mushers, which Grilliot was excited about.

To encourage mushers to compete on both sides of the border, the Quest created the Quest Cup, which will go to the musher who places highest in races in both Alaska and the Yukon. “So there will be an overall winner,” Grilliot said.

According to Grilliot, holding four shorter races entails about the same amount of effort as a single longer race. There are logistical issues to both, and both require shipping supplies out to remote areas.

“It’s almost the same as if we were staging a normal race,” he said. It also allowed the Quest’s two Boards to continue to collaborate. “This has kept us all on one team,” Grilliot said.

While there are benefits to holding several shorter races, the plan is to return to the regular route in 2023.

“We’re really looking forward to going back to the 1,000 mile race,” Grilliot said.

The 2022 Yukon Quest will kick off on Feb. 5 with the YQ550, which begins in Tok and ends in Fairbanks.

Contact reporter Maisie Thomas at 907-459-7544 or mthomas@newsminer.com.

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