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Fairbanks air carriers provide crucial support to Yukon Quest sled dog race

Colleen Mondor

As communities in Interior Alaska prepare for the 31st running of the Yukon Quest -- one of the world’s toughest sled dog races that snakes 1,000 miles from Fairbanks to Whitehorse, Canada -- the Fairbanks aviation community is yet again stepping up to assist in a number of ways. Air Arctic, Everts Air and Warbelow’s Air Ventures are all sponsoring the Yukon Quest on the Alaska side, while Alpine Aviation sponsors from the Yukon Territory.

There are just under 3,000 pounds of food and gear on track to be flown into Eagle. Aircraft will also fly Quest personnel as needed to the village which is not accessible this time of year by road.

On the Alaska side, there are two locations for the Quest that are inaccessible by road: the first is the dog drop at Slaven’s Roadhouse and the second is the checkpoint at Eagle. Slaven’s Roadhouse is a historic roadhouse in the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve that is maintained by the National Park Service.  Dating back to 1930, the roadhouse was originally built by former Klondike miner Frank Slaven and friends and has served as a popular stopping point along the Yukon River, particularly for dog mushers, ever since.

All dogs dropped at either of these locations on the Alaska side are picked up by air and moved forward along the route. At Slaven’s, which is largely manned by National Park Service volunteers during the race, charter companies from Fairbanks move the dogs by utilizing the nearby 3,850-foot Coal Creek airstrip. The dogs are then flown to Eagle, where they are eventually transferred to Alpine Aviation who fly them across the border and on to Dawson. Alpine Aviation performs the same service for two remote locations on the Canadian side.

Once on the ground in Dawson, handlers from the individual kennels assume the dogs' care. Thus some dogs, dropped at Slaven’s, can enjoy an aerial view of a significant portion of the race, rather than running it.

“It’s all about the dogs,” explains the race's Executive Director Marti Steury, and that means some of them fly while the others keep running. "Eventually they all get together again, and are taken good care of along the way.”

Of course, a spate of warm weather throughout much of Alaska could change the route. The Quest posted on its website Sunday that "As conditions warrant, the trail may be re-routed. This is nothing new and has happened several times over the years." There were no plans to cancel the race, despite the unseasonable weather, according to the note from race marshal Doug Grilliot.

Contact Colleen Mondor at colleen(at)alaskadispatch.com. Contact her on Twitter @chasingray.