Hosted by the Westmark Fairbanks Hotel & Conference Center, the Finish & Awards Banquet for the 2019 Yukon Quest began with a Presenting of the Colours by Fairbanks Kiwanis Cub Scout Pack #92, a performance of the Canadian and American national anthems by David Wilcoxson, and an invocation by Pastor David McConnell-Booher. Taking the stage next was Don Honea, Traditional Chief of Doyon, Ltd. - Tanana Chiefs Conference. Their welcoming remarks were followed by some colourful anecdotes about the race’s origins from Quest cofounder LeRoy Shank.
Following dinner and sponsor recognition, tribute was given to the tireless efforts of the many volunteers. Next came an emotional recounting of the triumphs of the Central Seven by the checkpoint managers of the Central and Mile 101.
During the salute to the mushers from the YQ300, this year’s winner, Aliy Zirkle, presented Head Veterinarian Dr. Nina Hansen with a gift on behalf of the competitors.
Next came a 13-minute trailer for the forthcoming video feature commemorating this year’s race, to be released in April 2019. Comprising an early edit of footage shot by the Quest’s official Visual Content Team, the trailer garnered spontaneous cheers from the mushers and the crowd.
Head Veterinarian Dr. Nina Hansen was next to the stage to introduce and praise the members of the Quest Veterinary Team. Race Marshal Doug Harris did the same for the race officials.
After acknowledgement of the three scratched competitors, each musher was then introduced in the reverse order in which they finished, presented with their Finisher’s patch, and given an opportunity to share trail stories from this year’s race, as well as give thanks to their friends and supporters.
Twenty-seventh place finisher Hendrik Stachnau was first to speak, saying his Quest experience was an emotional “cocktail,” but said he’ll remember the friendly faces most of all. Misha Wiljes, who finished 26th, expressed her gratitude to everyone who makes the race possible behind the scenes.
Twenty-fifth place Chase Tingle, a rookie, thanked the trailbreakers, the veterinarians, his sponsors, and his dog truck for holding together long enough to get his handlers to the finish line.
Jim Lanier was this year’s 24th place finisher. The 78-year-old rookie received a standing ovation as he took the stage. Lanier was quick to thank the cooks at each of the checkpoints and hospitality stops along the way, and implored the crowd to never let anyone tell you you’re too old. Lanier then serenaded the room with a song he thought up out on the Quest trail, sung to the tune of “The Impossible Dream.”
Rookies Isabelle Travadon and Laura Allaway were both blown away by the hospitality stops and the sense of community found throughout the race. Travadon placed 23rd, while Allaway took 22nd.
In addition to thanking race officials, vets, and family, 21st place Remy Leduc was also sure to mention his firewood sponsor for allowing him to instead devote, what would otherwise have been wood-splitting time, to his dogs. After apologizing for never arriving at a checkpoint in daylight, Curt Perano joked that the trailbreakers did too good a job and were therefore responsible for giving him a false sense of security.
Veteran Yukon musher Rob Cooke, who took 19th, made sure to praise his travelling companions over Eagle and Rosebud summits, a sentiment echoed by the next musher, and one of those very companions, 18th place Andy Pace.
Seventeenth place finisher Jason Biasetti, the rookie out of Dawson City, Yukon, spoke of his admiration for, and how much he learned during the race from Pace and 16th place Deke Naaktgeboren. With his turn at the mic, Naaktgeboren expressed his gratitude to his fellow mushers for all the moral support.
This year’s 15th place finisher, Dave Dalton, paused to note how great it was that there were so few scratches this year. Rookie musher Martin Apayauq Reitan thanked his fellow mushers for all the helpful advice along the way, and the polar bears from around his hometown of Kaktovik, Alaska.
In 13th place Dawson, Yukon veteran Brian Wilmshurst said he loves the Quest so much he almost wishes it was a million-mile race. Twelfth place Cody Strathe thanked sponsors, handlers, and wife, Paige.
Two Rivers, Alaska musher and 11th place finisher Ryne Olson said the first-rate hospitality the mushers receive during the race makes it seem lonely when she first gets back home. Tenth place Nathaniel Hamlyn’s thank you list was devoted to family.
Jessie Royer, who took ninth place, said she really enjoyed getting to travel the trail with Strathe and Wilmshurst, and Reitan in particular. Eighth place Denis Tremblay took the opportunity to thank his sponsors and family, while Torsten Kohnert, this year’s seventh place finisher, was sure to thank his family back home in Sweden for looking after things so he could “sneak away” to do a quick 1,000 miles.
Quest veteran and sixth place finisher Paige Drobny praised the vet team for their patience, and all the volunteers and organizers. She said every year she is so proud of all the mushers in the race, and proud to be a part of such a great group.
2017 Quest champion Matt Hall took fifth this year. He recognized the phenomenal dedication of the trailbreakers and vets. Yukon veteran and fourth place finisher Michelle Phillips said she enjoyed her return to the race after a few years away for all the happy memories it brought back.
Defending champion Allen Moore, who claimed third place this year, said it was an unusual race this year in that the lead pack stayed so close together for so much of the race, and he enjoyed the camaraderie.
After some tales from this year’s Eagle and Rosebud summit ascents, second place Hans Gatt said he accomplished everything he had hoped to achieve in his return to the race.
Top honours went to Brent Sass, the 2019 Yukon Quest champion. Sass gave full credit to his young but exceptional team and described this year’s race as a “magic carpet ride.” After praising the patience and dedication of his family and handler team, Sass heaped praise on the race officials, vets and volunteers, and said after a year away it really felt like coming home.
Following the mushers remarks, Dr. Hansen was joined on stage by BP Alaska’s John Ringstad and Denali Centre Representative Ruth Pomeroy for the presentation of the Veterinarian’s Choice Award. Selected by the Quest veterinary team, the award is given to the musher who best demonstrates outstanding canine care while remaining competitive during the entire race. Donated by Alpine Veterinary Medical Clinic in Whitehorse, the award is good for $1,000USD toward veterinary services. This year’s winner was Brent Sass, who won the race with the 14 dogs he started with in Whitehorse.
The remainder of the awards were presented by Race Marshal Doug Harris.
Selected by the Quest race officials, the Challenge of the North Award is given to the musher who best exemplifies the spirit of the Yukon Quest. This year’s recipient was Remy Leduc, who received a beaded beaver-lined set of mittens.
The Sportsmanship Award went to Rob Cooke. Sponsored by Suz Kiskin, this award of a handcrafted beaver-lined hat is decided by the mushers themselves, and is presented to the competitor who demonstrates outstanding sportsmanship along the trail.
Rookie of the Year honours were bestowed upon Martin Apayauq Reitan of Kaktovik, Alaska, for being the first rookie musher to cross the finish line. Reitan, whose brother Vebjorn won the award last year, walked away with a handcrafted scrimshaw knife.
Sponsored by Fellhawk Placer Mining, the Joe Fellers Dawson City Award of 2 ounces of Klondike placer gold also went to Brent Sass for being the first musher to reach Dawson City and go on to finish the race.
The White Pass & Yukon Route Red Lantern Award went to Hendrik Stachnau. Presented annually to the race’s last official finisher, the Red Lantern commemorates the tradition of keeping a light on for all mushers still out on the trail.
The evening closed with the presentation of the Golden Harness Award. In honour of their loyalty, endurance, and perseverance throughout the race, Brent Sass’ two lead dogs, Jeep and Sluice, received custom-made golden harnesses sponsored by RAMCO, and steaks prepared by the Head Chef of the Westmark Fairbanks Hotel & Conference Center.