Riders faced some of the toughest conditions in years during Saturday’s Alcan 200 snowmachine race north of Haines. Biting cold, fierce winds and long stretches of bare pavement made the 150-mile competition more challenging than usual. Despite the difficulties, two Haines locals took home first and second place overall.
On Saturday morning, snowmachiners set up at the starting line, which is just past the US-Canada border, about 40 miles north of Haines. Temperatures hovered around zero degrees and riders were bracing for even colder weather as they race north through British Columbia and the Yukon.
Haines resident Nicole Holm was wearing five layers and her iPod ear buds to distract from the cold.
“It’s a conglomeration of everything from Metallica to Theory of Dead Man to Nickelback, mostly it’s my 15 year old kid’s playlist,” Holm said.
“If you’re gonna listen to Metallica you might as well listen to your engine blowing up, it’s the same sounds,” joked Shane Horton, Nicole’s father, who was also competing in the Alcan.
Horton and Holm braved the Alcan for the first time in 2016. They’re part of a growing number of locals getting involved in recent years. Thirteen of the 27 competitors this year live in Haines.
With duct tape on their faces to protect against the wind chill and an ambulance following behind, the snowmachines were off, two by two. They speed about 80 miles up the Haines Highway to Dezadeash Lodge and then turn back around. The riders have the road to themselves – it’s closed to other traffic for the event.
At the awards ceremony later that night, two of the top three prizes went to locals. Just like last year, Haines residents Chris Brooks and Jack Smith Jr. took first and second place overall. Brooks says he was originally going to miss the race, but he changed plans around so he could make it.
“This is important, this isn’t something that happens every day,” Brooks said. “You know, to have a race organized in one country run in another country, not only another country but two different provinces of another country, that’s kind of cool, that’s kind of special.”
Brooks says these were some of the poorest conditions he’s seen in his 10 years participating in the Alcan. He says the worst part was the combination of 30 or so miles of bare pavement and winds strong enough to knock you over.
“It was definitely challenging today, there’s no question about that,” Brooks said. “Definitely had some wrecks because you can’t steer on the pavement, you just kind of bounce off the snowbanks and hope you bounce in the right direction.”
“The asphalt was pretty challenging, we had to slow down a bit for that to make sure we could steer,” said Whitehorse resident and Alcan regular Justin Peterson. “But you have to keep going, you can’t stop.”
Peterson’s brother, Nathan, placed third overall, behind Brooks and Smith. He says even though there are brutal conditions some years, he’ll keep competing in the Alcan.
“The Alcan is definitely a big highlight of my winter,” Peterson said.
The rough conditions contributed to 10 people not being able to finish the race and a few injuries. Whitehorse resident and Alcan rookie Donna Chambers made it all the way through. She and Holm were the only women competitors.
“At first I was like, ‘Wow what am I doing?'” Chambers said. “But I’m glad I did it. I can cross that one off the bucket list.”
If there are more people wanting to cross what’s dubbed the longest snowmachine race in North America off their bucket list, organizers hope to find them. The Chilkat Snowburners Club is gearing up for the 50th Alcan, in 2019. For that, they want to recruit at least twice as many riders.