As I write these words there is one more day of registration for the 18th annual Trek Over the Top from Tok, Alaska, to Dawson and back.
The snowmobile racing event that was begun by the Alaska Trailblazers as a lark in 1993, and solidified into serious winter tourism in 1994, has entered a new era this year.
Long time organizers and founders Erik Zalitis and Laurie McCrory have turned the Dawson City side of the operation over to the Klondike Visitors Association. Shiny new marketing assistant Paul Robitaille is working hard to maintain the quality event they have nurtured.
The Trek has had a tough couple of years, plagued by nasty weather, bothersome border regulations and the relative strength of the Canadian dollar against its US counterpart.
What was a healthy three-weekend event has had to scale back to two weekends. This year’s event maintains that pace, though Robitaille reports that registration is up by about 50 people over the 220 from last year.
The 200-mile (354 km) snowmobile run from Tok to Dawson can be an endurance test or a walk in the park, depending on the weather, but that’s part of what draws people to make the trip.
The first run will leave Tok on Thursday, March 2, and arrive here later that day. After two days of fun and frolic in Dawson, they head back to Tok on the Sunday. The next group sets out the following Thursday.
While here they spend Friday and Saturday in a variety of events, which usually begin close to noon to allow for the fact that the night before was busy.
Diamond Tooth Gerties is open with both gambling and a floor show, including the Snow Shufflers. Lunches and dinners are provided as part of the package at the local hotels and at Gerties.
The museum runs a special tour and the Volunteer Firefighters stage a barbecue. The curling club will be open. There will also be a poker tournament.
Key to everything that happens is the participation of the Dawson Sled Dawgs, who groom the trail as far as the border, organize a poker run and the sled drop.
This is a strange variation on darts in which a sled is dropped from 500 feet (152 m) up by a helicopter and the person who manages to guess closest to where it lands (leaving the target area festooned with stakes) wins a pot of cash.
Paul says one of the themes this year will be a big thank you to Erik and Laurie for all the work they have done in maintaining and shaping this event over 18 years. In that spirit, many of the events of the two weekends are open to locals as well as to the visitors.
“Just to make it more of a Dawson party,” Robitaille says.
The KVA is hoping that numbers will build back up again, to the point where the event can return to the days of three weekends with up to 200 trekkers a trip.
“We’re not changing very much. It hasn’t been our event and we’re still new players in this. We want to get our feet wet this year, hopefully do a good job, and see a further increase in numbers for next year.”
The sled drops will be on both Fridays, about 5:15 pm, with tickets for stakes on sale throughout the afternoon until half an hour before.
After 32 years teaching in rural Yukon schools, Dan Davidson retired from that profession but continues writing about life in Dawson City.