Red Lantern finishes Yukon Quest 350
The Yukon Quest 350 came to a conclusion the morning of Feb. 9, 2022, in Fairbanks, Alaska, when Jennifer LaBar and her team reached the finish chute downtown in fourth place to win the Red Lantern as the last team to finish the race.
Roughly 24 hours earlier, Brent Sass won the race, while Matt Hall placed second and Deke Naaktgeboren placed third.
Cody Strathe, Rob Cooke and Misha Wiljes all scratched from the YQ350 this year.
The race itself was impacted by severe weather, both before the race – the trail was changed three times in the lead up – and during the race – inclement weather on the summits effective separated portions of the field.
For the first time in Quest history, mushers also had the uneviable task of climbing both Rosebud and Eagle summits twice each, providing a unique challenge for teams.
One of the other new additions to the race this year was the ability for trail rest to count towards the total mandatory rest required for each team.
Sass weighed in on the experiment at the finish line, saying it’s a rule that allows for better dog care.
“With being able to rest on the trail, it was awesome. Being able to log that time wherever we wanted was a really big thing,” Sass said. “For me, it’s just about being able to run the race that you train for and stop where you feel comfortable to stop and where the dogs need to stop. And so any restrictions to that kind of cuts into the race and cuts into the ability of the dogs to perform at their highest level. I feel like the more flexibility that the mushers are given to run their dogs properly, the better the race is going to go for the dogs and the humans.”
While the delays along the trail, severe weather earlier in the year limiting overall miles for many teams, and the last-minute adjustments to the race led teams to slow their pace and rest more in checkpoints, it’s clear there is merit to the idea – at least for teams looking to be as competitive as possible.
Hall agreed it was a positive for dog care.
“We’re experimenting with it and I think if it works, it’s going to be incredible,” Hall said. “Being able to take (rest) where and when it is needed is the most important. Being able to stop because the dogs are starting to dip snow and they need that water break right now. Like, ‘Hey, we’re going to stop right now, we’re going to camp, we’ll clock three hours of rest and off we go again.’ But if that checkpoint is literally seven miles away … and you have to take four hours there, what are you going to do? … So being able to choose is incredible.”
But both mushers also had some concerns.
For Sass, keeping track of the rest was another thing to worry about.
“Logging it in the book is just one more thing. I mean we’re stupid out there from sleep deprivation and everything else to begin with, and then if I forget to log that time in there, then there is a controversy of some sort,” Sass said. “But whatever, we’ve got to remember all kinds of stuff out there. So if that just becomes one more thing, it’s definitely a better alternative than having to stop only in checkpoints.”
Hall’s biggest concern was the unreliability of race trackers, at least as an accurate timekeeper.
“I think if it gets really serious and takes off, I think there is going to have to be a secondary timekeeping device because these trackers go offline all the time,” Hall said.
Yukon Quest 350 final standings
McMahon, Honda finish Yukon Quest 200
The Yukon Quest 200 is also completely in the books, as the final mushers crossed the finish line in the early hours of Feb. 8, 2022, in Central, Alaska.
Dan Kaduce won the YQ200 when he reached the finish in Central, Alaska, before dawn on Feb. 7 with Dylan Robins second and Shaynee Traska third.
Carcross’s Connor McMahon was among the group of mushers forced to wait out a storm on Eagle Summit at the Mile 101 checkpoint, but finished seventh overall when he reached the finish in Central at 9:49 p.m. on Feb. 7.
The Red Lantern in the YQ200 was Justin Olnes who reached the finish line at 1:47 a.m. on Feb. 8, just under half an hour behind Yuka Honda who finished 10th.
Yukon Quest 200 final standings
Racing moves to the Yukon
The Yukon Quest’s series of 2022 races continues later this month with the Yukon Quest 300 and Yukon Quest 100, both set to begin in Whitehorse on Feb. 19, 2022.
Of the mushers who raced this week in Alaska, Sass and McMahon are the only two who will also be competing in 10 days, making them eligble for the $5,000 Quest Cup – a new prize added for mushers choosing to race on both sides of the border.
As it stands now, the course for the YQ100 is from Whitehorse to Braeburn along the usual Yukon Quest and the YQ300 will go from Whitehorse past Braeburn to Mandanna Lake and back to Whitehorse for the finish.