Alaska musher Brent Sass is still the one to beat in the Yukon Quest sled dog race.
Sass, who won the race last year, was the first to reach the race’s halfway point at Dawson City, early Thursday morning. He arrived a little more than an hour ahead of Yukoner Michelle Phillips.
It’s the second year in a row that Sass led the pack into Dawson.
“It feels good, it’s always fun to be back in Dawson. It’s fun to be here first,” Sass told reporters on Thursday morning. He reached the checkpoint at 5:43 a.m. local time.
Sass said it was a bit of a “slog” getting to Dawson.
“There’s definitely some challenging conditions in certain places, and [the dogs] just put their heads down and got the job done,” he said.
“There were just a lot of sections where we were just straight up breaking trail … the trail was totally blown in.”
The first musher to Dawson is traditionally awarded two ounces of Klondike gold — but first they have to complete the 1,600-kilometre race to Whitehorse.
Mushers are required to stay in Dawson for 36 hours before continuing on. Sass was asked what he need most during his layover in Dawson — a shot, a shower or sleep?
“Food,” he said. “I need some food.”
Michelle Phillips of Tagish, Yukon, was leading the race for a while in recent days, but fell behind Sass as they got closer to Dawson. She arrived in Dawson a little over an hour after Sass, at 6:54 a.m. local time.
“I’m feeling pretty good. Happy to be here,” she said.
Phillips also described being slowed by windy and snowy conditions before Dawson, but said she has a good group of dogs.
She was also asked by reporters how she’d celebrate her arrival in Dawson.
“I’m gonna have a beer,” she said.
As of Thursday morning, there were still 11 more mushers due to arrive in Dawson City. Two other mushers dropped out of the race earlier this week.
With files from Steve Silva
Related stories from around the North:
Norway: Swedish musher wins Finnmarksløpet, The Independent Barents Observer
United States: Alaskan Pete Kaiser wins 2019 Iditarod dog sled race, Alaska Public Media