Quest attracts 29 mushers

Posted: Monday, December 16, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The number of entrants in the 2003 Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race stands at 29.

The deadline for mushers to register was midnight Sunday. The number may go up slightly in the next few days if last-minute entries are received by mail. A total of 41 teams started the 2002 race.

''Nobody's knocking down our door,'' executive director Layne St. John said at the Fairbanks' Yukon Quest office Sunday.

The 1,000-mile race between Whitehorse and Fairbanks begins Feb. 9 in Whitehorse. What may have kept some from signing up is the lack of snow needed for training.

Dave Monson, who had signed up for the Iditarod but was considering withdrawing to do the Quest, cited lack of training as one of the reasons why he and his wife, four-time Iditarod champion Susan Butcher, won't be running any long distance races this year. Butcher was planning to run the Quest.

''This year the conditions are so poor, and universally poor, it really makes training impossible,'' Monson said. ''I know a lot of people that are going to Paxson, Central, Tok and even going out of state.''

Monson said traveling far from home isn't possible, since he has to take his two daughters to school, ballet and violin lessons.

''We'll be doing other races and other things,'' Monson said. ''I'm just hoping we'll get to run some dogs this winter.''

Two-time Quest champion John Schandelmeier may have an advantage this year as he trains on trails that other mushers are flocking to. Schandelmeier said the 8 to 16 inches of snow he has on his home trails around Paxson Lake are far from perfect, but it's more snow than mushers can find elsewhere.

''We've got half of Fairbanks down here training on the Denali Highway. All this weekend in Paxson we've had anywhere between eight and 10 dog trucks parked here. There's some pretty big outfits training out of here with 50 to 70 dogs,'' Schandelmeier said. ''There's far more dog teams than snowmachines, which is kind of unusual for here.''

Schandelmeier said he was alarmed at the decision by race organizers to set a Jan. 15 deadline to decide whether the race will go forward. The deadline was set because there are large stretches of open water on rivers that the dog teams normally traverse.

''My initial reaction to that is, 'Gee, can't we use an alternate route,''' Schandelmeier said. But he added Jan. 15 is still a month away and winter seems to be on the way. ''Right now, we're holding at 20 below.''

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