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This Feb. 15, 2008, file photo shows Dan Kaduce and his wife Jodie Bailey of Chatanika, Alaska, riding the runners of Kaduce's dogsled together as they pass an ice Inukshuk on the Yukon River on their way to the Dawson City, campground after checking in at the halfway point during the annual 'Yukon Quest' International Sled Dog Race. (Sam Harrel/AP)
This Feb. 15, 2008, file photo shows Dan Kaduce and his wife Jodie Bailey of Chatanika, Alaska, riding the runners of Kaduce's dogsled together as they pass an ice Inukshuk on the Yukon River on their way to the Dawson City, campground after checking in at the halfway point during the annual 'Yukon Quest' International Sled Dog Race. (Sam Harrel/AP)

All Yukon Quest mushers still on the trail Add to ...

For the first time in the 27-year history of the Yukon Quest, a musher hasn't been forced out of the dog sled race after six days on the trail from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Whitehorse, Yukon.

All 24 mushers who began the race in Fairbanks, Alaska six days ago were still on the trail Thursday.

Officials say the leaders are 12 hours ahead of estimated race times, thanks to favourable temperatures and good trail conditions.

Since 2001, the longest that the 1,600-kilometre race has gone without a musher having to bow out was two days into the competition.

Three-time race champ Hans Gatt of Whitehorse was the first into Dawson City on Wednesday evening and will receive a gold nugget worth about $4,000 for accomplishing that feat - after he makes it to the finish line.

This year's Yukon Quest purse is pegged at $150,000, with the winner taking home $30,000 in the race that is known as one of the toughest in the world because of harsh winter conditions and a rough trail.

Two other firsts for the Quest this year are that the mushers are using GPS trackers and the race results are being posted online.

The only exception is Yukoner Gerry Willomitzer, who opted not to attach the device to his sked.

The Quest has formed a partnership with a company that manufactures the tracking devices and a website (www.trackleaders.com) that's providing fans with updated results every 10 minutes.

Wendy Morrison, the outgoing Yukon Quest International Society Yukon executive director, said the trackers are an exciting addition for race enthusiasts.

"Our fans are going to get so much more out of it," Morrison said.

She said the mushers' families were especially keen on the idea to start using GPS.

The device will also enable organizers to have a better idea of when the mushers will be coming into checkpoints to better prepare for their arrival.

The decision to start using GPS trackers comes after other sled dog races have already made the technology mandatory for entrants.

While fans will be celebrating their new ability to follow the race from start to finish, musher Willomitzer is not happy with the new technology.

The four-time Quest runner says he wants to keep the other mushers' handlers in the dark about his whereabouts.

"It's not that I think I want to be a stealth musher," he said.

Willomitzer also said GPS trackers take away the element of surprise at each checkpoint, as fans and organizers generally have no inkling about which musher is going to show up.

"It's a very exciting element," he said.

The trackers shouldn't affect anyone's strategy on the trail, Morrison said.

Musher Hans Gatt said he doesn't expect anything to change with the implementation of GPS tracking.

"You know where your closest competitors are on the trail," he said.

"The reality is, you're not going to get into a checkpoint and go on the Internet and look where the other mushers are."

"In the end, the fastest dog team wins," he said. "That's the rule."

 

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