Yukon Quest Dog Sled Race, a unique winter vacation

Yukon Quest

Start of the Yukon Quest

The crazed dogs were pulling, yelping and leaping in the air, taking a team of eight people straining at the sled to hold them back at the start of the Yukon Quest, the toughest dog sled race in the world, in Whitehorse, Yukon.

These highly trained endurance athletes (the dogs) had been training for months, and knowing that the day was finally here, were more than anxious to hit the trail. No one can look at the wild start of the Yukon Quest and have any doubt that these dogs love to run. Usually selected from a larger pool of dogs that most of the elite mushers own, the dogs who make the final cut are selected for their intelligence, strength, endurance and teamwork.

After spending time in the Northwest and Alaska Steve and I became fascinated with the traditions of dog sledding in the harsh climate of the North. Our first sledding experience was in Alaska, but it was an all day adventure in Wyoming in minus 13 degree weather, running our own teams, that we got hooked.

Yukon Quest

A team of sled dogs at the start of the Yukon Quest

The Iditarod is the better known race, but as we learned more about the sport and spent more time in the Yukon we learned about the longer and more challenging race, the Yukon Quest. Spanning 1,100 miles between Whitehorse, Yukon and Fairbanks, Alaska, the race can be more challenging due the remoteness of the terrain, fewer checkpoints, less support and frigid temperatures.

Gradually, the idea of traveling to the Yukon in winter to see the start of the race became an obsession. We couldn’t imagine winter in the far north but were eagerly looking forward to joining in the excitement as dog sledding mania invated the small town of Whitehorse. It seemed like a world away from the temperate climate of California, but in February 2009 we stepped off an Air North jet in Whitehorse into minus 20 degree weather. As I walked across the tarmac I took a deep breath and coughed, my lungs fighting the icy blast. We gradually acclimated to the cold, and properly dressed, began to enjoy being in the crisp, clean, white world.

The race was everything we thought it would be, but didn’t anticipate the intimate feeling among spectators. We were able to stand right at the starting chute, shouting encouragement to the teams as they leaped forth, smoothly pulling the sleds as they embarked on their long, solitary journey, a lone musher standing on the rails of each sled. Locals mixed with TV crews and press from major international outlets. We saw some of the biggest names in sledding history, such as Lance Mackey, four time winner of the Yukon Quest and Iditarod (twice in the same year), Martin Buser, and Newton Marshall of the Jamaican Dog Sled Team. We sponsored a female musher, Michelle Phillips, a 5 time veteran of the Quest and were able to locate her sled prior to the start to wish her well on her 10-14 day journney over four mountain ranges.

Yukon Quest 300

The Yukon Quest 300, a shorter 300 mile race that serves as a qualifying race for the Yukon Quest and Iditarod, departed in the afternoon, and that turned out to be a lot of fun as well. Seeing the younger, less experienced mushers testing their mettle on the first part of the same course was instructive, as unruly dogs tangled in their traces and caused a general uproar in the starting chute. With fewer spectators it was even easier to get close to the starting line to be a part of the commotion.

Yukon Quest Race

The 2011 Yukon Quest starts in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada on February 5, 2011, with a slate of 31 mushers for the main race and 25 mushers for the YQ 300.  Additional information about the race can be found on the Yukon Quest website at www.yukonquest.com with frequent updates posted on Facebook.


Traveling to the start of the Yukon Quest in Whitehorse is a unique winter experience for mushing fans and those who like to experience winter sports. Winter activities in and around Whitehorse include snowmobiling, dog-sledding, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, ice skating, ice fishing and downhill skiing. Local outfitters, such as Up North Adventures, offer year round support for many activities.

Inn on the Lake

Inn on the Lake

Inn on the Lake at Marsh Lake

We stayed at the luxurious Inn on the Lake on Marsh Lake, 33 miles from Whitehorse. Marsh Lake, frozen solid, was a magnet for Japanese tourists seeking a viewing of the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), many of whom weren’t aware of the race going on just a few miles away. The log cabin lodge offers family style 3-course meals each night, spacious, well appointed rooms and friendly, helpful staff. We enjoyed talking to a variety of international guests each evening and shared lively conversations. I attempted to walk across the lake to the other side, but quickly found that distances were deceiving and aborted that effort after enjoying a brisk, refreshing stroll across about a third of the lake. The Inn on the Lake has attracted international attention, being featured on Martha Stewart Living and recently listed by National Geographic Traveler in the Top 150 places to stay.

See related article on Dog Sledding at Inga’s Adventures.com.

Getting there & where to stay:

Fly into Vancouver International Airport (YVR). Air Canada and Air North provide jet service between Vancouver and Whitehorse (YXY) three times a day; a 2.5 hour flight.


Inn on the Lake
Lot 76 McClintock (Marsh Lake)
Whitehorse, YT

We have also stayed at the following hotels on previous visits:

Historical Guest House
5128 5th Ave.
Whitehorse, YT

Located in a quiet, residential neighborhood, the Historical Guest House operates like a do-it-yourself B&B, with access to a fully stocked kitchen. The wood frame heritage house was built in 1907 by Mike and Tony Cyr, who hiked the Chilkoot Trail in the Klondike gold rush.

Westmark Hotel
201 Wood Street
Whitehorse, YT

The Westmark line provides hotels throughout the North, primarily to serve cruise/coach tours. Conveniently located in downtown Whitehorse, the rooms are clean and comfortable, if basic, and there is a restaurant on-site.

Up North Adventures


Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.