Low snow enough to slow Quest mushers

Posted: Monday, January 07, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- With the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race just a month away, mushers are traveling around the Interior looking for adequate snow to train on.

The race to Whitehorse, Canada, starts in Fairbanks on Feb. 9.

The snowpack should be about 20 inches thick this time of year. It's roughly eight in the Fairbanks area.

''The cushion is one-third as thick as it would be in an average year. That's not real good for a thousand-mile trip,'' said National Weather Service forecaster Ted Fathauer.

Little snow makes for slick trails so the ride is not only hard, but fast and difficult to control.

''I just came in from my first four-hour run,'' said Quest competitor Suzan Amundsen on Friday. ''The dogs can't handle this bang, bang, bang down the trail. It's just too hard on their shoulders.''

Elsewhere in the state, such as Tok, Quest competitor Peter Butteri is training on ample snow.

Does Butteri think he has an edge over Fairbanks mushers battling poor snow conditions?

''Because the training has gone so smooth, we're going to have an advantage over some people,'' he said. But Butteri said that mushers training on rough trails may in fact have the edge because their dogs learn how to handle it.

''No matter how good a snow year it is, the Quest trails have a lot of rough sections,'' Butteri said.

Here's what a few other mushers had to say about the trail, their dog teams or how training is going:

Joran Freeman, 40, is an environmental engineer from Two Rivers training for his second Yukon Quest. He's adapted to the meager snowpack, he said.

''They're definitely moving along pretty fast,'' Freeman said of his dog team while on the trail. ''I'm dealing with it the best I can.''

Freeman's strategy has been to add weight in his sled and attach a drag to the back to slows things down and provide some resistance for the dogs.

For Freeman, the snow conditions are just another obstacle to overcome for a race that's partly about coping with the environment.

''It really is all about control,'' he said. ''If you have confidence in your leaders and your team, you're more apt to have a fun, safe time out on these hard packed trails.''

Frank Turner is training for his 19th Yukon Quest. Turner, who won the Quest in 1995, runs a kennel in Whitehorse called Muktuk Kennel.

Turner said snow conditions are fine in and around Whitehorse, and training has been good.

He's a little worried about the ice on the Yukon River. ''There may be a problem as far as finishing the race,'' he said.

Turner doesn't think snow conditions in any particular place make much of a difference for the most competitive Quest mushers.

''The teams that are competitive, they're going to be good anywhere,'' he said. ''Once we hit the trail, we all run the same trail.''

Jim Hendrick, 51, is a guide and emergency medical technician from Denali who is training for his 11th Yukon Quest. Hendrick has a trail attached to his property, but he's been hauling his dogs to other places for training lately.

''I had a really great trail, then it was 40 degrees for three days and it melted away,'' he said.

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