ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) – Since 1984, separate governing bodies in Alaska and Canada have hosted the Yukon Quest, an international 1,000-mile sled dog race between Fairbanks and Whitehorse.
However, the Alaska board of directors for the race (Yukon Quest International Ltd.) announced Monday that it will no longer work with the Yukon board of directors (Yukon Quest International Association) to host an international race between the two sides.
The “split,” as described by Yukon Quest International Association musher representative Frank Turner, stems largely from disagreements over proposed rule changes for the 2023 race, longer mandatory breaks along the trail, and more comprehensive veterinary care include.
“We think there are ways to improve the race so that we can walk the talk (for dog grooming) and the Alaskans didn’t support that,” said Turner, a 1995 Yukon Quest Champion. “Their position was one-sided that they wanted to leave things as they were, apply the same rules as 2020 and didn’t want to compromise. … I want to be objective here, so I don’t blame, I’m not critical. We then had to make a decision – okay, there’s no give and take, and we’re not going to back down from our commitment to implementing dog grooming, and then it kind of went downhill.”
Turner added that the Alaska board’s decision to no longer work with them came as a surprise, and that their announcement was not sent directly to the Yukon Quest International Association, but was brought to the attention of a media outlet.
The Alaska Board claims the Canadian side has proposed a 120-hour mandatory break along the trail, which runs along the Yukon River and features the mighty Eagle and Rosebud peaks, each over 3,000 feet, instead of the current 52-hour mandatory one Break.
“The Alaska Board believes that the proposed rule changes would have irreparably changed the core principles on which the Yukon Quest was founded, specifically that it should be an endurance race in the wilderness that would challenge and advance the bush skills of traditional arctic mushers training and caring for their dogs,” read the Yukon Quest International Ltd statement. “The Alaska Board concluded that the proposed changes would fundamentally transform this mission. Accordingly, Alaska (YQIL) and the Yukon (YQIA) will no longer work together to host an international race.”
All rule changes for Yukon Quest races, including the shorter middle distance races held by either side, must be approved by the Rules Committee.
“The fact that they just wanted to make changes themselves without following the historical procedures of the companies and the bylaws and procedures that you are required to follow,” said Mark Weber, vice president of the board on the Alaska side.
Weber said that when the Alaska board rejected the proposal during a board meeting, the Canadian board stated, “Then we will seek to dissolve the company.” In a press release On Tuesday, the Yukon board said it “categorically disagrees” with the Alaska board’s assessment of the situation.
“At a Joint Board Executive Committee meeting on April 29, the Yukon Board agreed to hold the 2023 1,000-mile race using the 2020 rules as requested by the Alaskans, with a request that additional data be included in Regarding run/rest intervals and trackers, reliability, a listing of the veterinary equipment used during the race and also the consideration of adding an additional mandatory veterinary check,” the press release reads.
The last international 1,000-mile Yukon Quest was held in 2020, while each board held middle-distance races to keep the race’s legacy alive until a full race could be held again, which was scheduled for February 2023.
Turner outlined another rule that the Canadian Board was interested in implementing, aimed at improving the health and safety of sled dogs.
“What’s the worst thing that can happen in a race? Dog death,” Turner said. “…We wanted a rule that said if a dog dies in the race, that team is withdrawn and pending the autopsy, the autopsy, if a veterinary panel determines that the death of that dog was avoidable, then it’s a lifetime ban. No Get out of Jail (free) card. We wanted that.”
Both sides shared their disappointment at how the dispute was handled. The Yukon board said in the release that the Alaska board’s decision to cut ties comes amid an ongoing negotiation process.
“We are so sad and heartbroken about this, it’s incredible,” Weber said. “…Would we support a change? We have been told by existing board members and in particular the current President that they will not support what we believe, which is to follow the rules and regulations of the race.
“Personally, these guys are my friends,” Turner added. “I raced against them, I worked with them. It’s just extremely disappointing how this has turned out because… I think it could have been handled much better in good faith, rather than as an erosion of trust. Either they don’t trust us or we don’t trust them. Either way, you want to cut it, loss of trust is a big problem.”
The Yukon board of directors confirmed they will host 100-mile, 200-mile, and 450-mile races, while Alaska alluded to a 1,000-mile race to be held from Eagle to Fairbanks in addition to their annual middle-distance races , which serve as qualifiers for both the full quest and the Iditarod.
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