FAIRBANKS -- A Canadian musher will be the first on the trail Saturday when the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race begins in Fairbanks, which won't be a 1,000-mile this year because of warm temperatures that forced changes to the start and finish.
Normand Casavant of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, selected the No. 1 spot from a bunny boot during the Yukon Quest start banquet Thursday in Fairbanks.
Casavant considers the position a good omen. He picked the seventh position last year and finished seventh. In 2012, he picked the 10th position and finished in 10th place.
"That's good," Casavant told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. "I love supernatural things, the little things that make it special."
In the small race field of 18, Ontario musher Hank DeBruin claimed the No. 18 spot.
The Quest, which begins Saturday at 11 a.m. in Fairbanks, will be closer to 900 miles than 1,000 this year.
Because of open water on the Chena River, it will start at 2nd Avenue and Cushman Street. Usually it starts on the river near the Cushman Street bridge.
And instead of finishing in Whitehorse, the Quest will end 18 miles north at Takhini Hot Springs because of thin ice on the Yukon River.
About 50 miles were sliced off the trail when officials declared American Summit, a harrowing climb between Eagle and Dawson City, impassable in spots and rerouted things to bypass the pass.
It could be a fast, action-packed race. There are reports of freezing rain on top of snow that has left trails icy and hard, which means there's the potential for high speeds and spectacular crashes if mushers lose control of their teams.
Starting second in the race is Eureka musher Brent Sass. Casavant said he would be fine if Sass passes him soon after the start.
"I'm having no problem with that," Casavant said. "I prefer that Brent Sass pass me now rather than later."
Two-time winner John Schandelmeier is returning to the race after a seven-year absence. He said his wife prodded him into returning, despite a team that he said includes five puppies.
"She said, 'By the time you get there, don't worry, they'll be fully grown,' '' Schandelmeier said, drawing laughs from the banquet crowd.