Driving a snowmobile at 188 kilometres per hour during a race may sound daunting, but Whitehorse, Yukon racer Scott Smeeton says it’s “comfy” once he settles into it.
Smeeton is one of several dozen competitors expected to compete in Saturday’s Alcan 200 Road Rally on the Haines Highway, Yukon.
It’s billed as North America’s longest road snowmobile race.
This year organizers are celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Drivers begin at the Alaska–Yukon border, heading up the highway to Dezadeash Lake where they take a break to work on their machines. Then they race back to the border.
Smeeton won last year’s event. He’s been driving snowmobiles as long as he can remember.
‘It’s definitely scary,’ says Smeeton
His top speed was 188 km/h and his average speed 179 km/h.
That’s not as dangerous as it sounds, he said, because of features built into the machine.
“The way we have the sled set up, that holds the road pretty good,” Smeeton said.
“Believe it or not, there’s only about three or four corners you have to let off [the gas],” he said.
But it takes nerve. Smeeton said snow dust kicked up by the machines reduce visibility to almost zero for drivers following behind.
“It’s definitely scary, but once you’re out there it’s comfy. You settle in,” he said.
The race is fun, he said, but the most important thing is that nobody gets hurt.
“It definitely gets you thinking just about everything that’s happened in the past,” said Smeeton.
Jeffrey Peede of North Pole, Alaska, died from injuries after a crash during the 2009 race. It’s the only fatality in the race’s 50 years.
Smeeton said changes were made after that to increase safety. Those included starting the fastest machines first to minimize the amount of passing.
The race is organized by the Chilkat Valley Snowburners based in Haines, Alaska.
The president, Kathi Lapp, said fun is what’s kept the race alive for 50 years.
“They close the road and they can go up and race as fast as they want to go. And I think that’s the main part of it,” said Lapp.
She said there are no special activities planned for this year, but a man from Montana who competed in the first race in 1969 told organizers he’s coming.
Related stories from around the North:
Canada: Annual race aimed at reviving Inuit dog sledding tradition set to kick off in Nunavik, Radio Canada International
United States: Norwegian Joar Ulsom wins the 46th Iditarod in Alaska, Alaska Public Media