The Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race began in February 1984 with 26 teams in competition. The race has close ties to the past of Yukon and Interior Alaska , taking place along trails that once carried fur traders and missionaries, gold-hungry pilgrims, and determined mail carriers.
In the days before airplanes and automobiles, the dog team was often the only method of transportation in the great North. The Yukon Quest has been called the “toughest race on earth,” and for good reason.
The race, which takes place in early February, runs from Fairbanks  to Whitehorse  in even-numbered years and from Whitehorse to Fairbanks in odd-numbered years. It is named for the mighty Yukon River, “the Highway of the North,” and travels across some of the wildest and most sparsely populated country in the world.
Terrain, trail conditions, and temperatures vary wildly along the trail, from steep hills to miles of flat frozen lake, from hard-packed snow and frozen rivers to rough gravel, from -60°F to 30°F.
Although most of the media focus is on the mushers, the real stars of this or any sled dog race are the canine athletes. Since the teams are limited to 14 dogs, the Quest is musher-friendly to those with smaller kennels. And a smaller team ensures better care for individual dogs.
Depending on weather and trail conditions, the race takes 10–14 days. There is a mandatory 36-hour layover in Dawson City , Yukon. This is the only stop where dog handlers can feed and care for the teams while the mushers get some much-needed rest. A large veterinary tent is set up in the dog camp, which lies across the frozen Yukon River from Dawson.
If a dog exhibits signs of fatigue or illness at a checkpoint, the animal is dropped from the race and turned over to the handlers. If dropped at a remote spot, the dog is transported by one of the many volunteer pilots to a point where it can be met by the handlers.
Unlike other long-distance races, the Quest is easily accessible to onlookers. Race fans may follow the mushers’ progress by driving to many of the checkpoints along the way. Photo opportunities are plentiful from start to finish. For further information, visit the Yukon Quest headquarters in downtown Fairbanks .