The Yukon Quest’s recent announcement of changes to the 1,000-mile international sled dog race’s rest schedule are sure to provoke plenty of water-cooler conversation in the offseason. How will it affect race strategy? Can new records be compared to ones before the changes were made? Armchair mushers are sure to have diverse opinions on the alterations, but we think that overall the changes should be helpful in that they will ensure a more balanced set of mandatory resting periods along the trail.
The rest changes won’t significantly alter the overall amount of mandatory rest on the trail — under the old system, a total of 52 hours rest spread between three locations were required, and next year the race will require 50 hours total spent at four locations.
The biggest change is the cutting of 12 hours of mandatory rest time spent at Dawson City, where mushers will now have to spend only 24 hours instead of 36. The race will add most of that rest time back in other locations — two hours apiece will be added to the mandatory stops at Eagle and either Braeburn or Carmacks, and a new mandatory six-hour rest period will take place at the musher’s choice of Circle, Central or 101 Mile.
Although these changes slightly decrease the total amount of mandatory rest, they provide for a more sensible distribution of rest periods along the trail, reducing the chance that mushers will make potentially dangerous marathon runs on minimal sleep.
The organization says the changes didn’t come in response to any particular incident, but it’s hard to believe that the plight of Brent Sass this year was far from their minds.
Sass was a frontrunner in the race before he fell from his sled and hit his head on the ice as he neared Braeburn, giving him a concussion and causing him to withdraw from the race as he was flown to Whitehorse for medical treatment.
In statements since the incident, Sass cited a lack of rest as a major factor. The new rest schedule won’t necessarily prevent incidents like this year’s — the course’s more than 1,000 miles are plenty of distance in which misfortune can creep into the race — but they should provide a better baseline for mushers to balance their rest along the trail.
Safety issues aside, spreading out the rest makes good sense from a fan’s perspective as well.
Mandatory rest stops are rife with instances of mushers playing mind games with one another, spreading misinformation about their strategy and making preparations for their next gambit on the trail ahead.
An additional location where those mini-dramas can play out — as well as the mushers’ decision on where to make their new stop — will generate more intrigue among those of us following the race from home.
Additionally, the shortening of Dawson City’s formerly 36-hour stop will do much to improve the flow of mushers along the course, making the lull in the middle of the race far more bearable for spectators.
The Yukon Quest may seem like a distant concern in the middle of a Fairbanks summer, but we’re glad to see the organization take these steps early to give mushers as much time as possible to plan.
We hope they improve safety on the trail, and we’ll be watching eagerly to see what strategies mushers adopt to gain a strategic advantage over their opponents.
— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,