Sixteen teams competed in the inaugural Yukon River Quest (YRQ) 20 years ago – that’s a fraction of the numbers anticipated by race organizers in 2018.

In the two decades since that first race, the YRQ’s reputation has grown to the point where the race roster is usually full within a few weeks. That’s one of the reasons the event has made space for 125 teams this year.

“We feel we can handle that as long as we have our limits in place for solo teams,” said Jeff Brady, media relations for the 715-km race from Whitehorse to Dawson City.

This year, the YRQ takes place from June 27 to July 1. Registration opened on November 1, and by mid-November, there were already 96 teams registered.

The increase in total teams isn’t the only thing that’s changed.

Because the solo class is such a popular category, the YRQ allowed for 40 paddlers instead of 35 this year, and those 40 had to win their positions via lottery.

Brady said that class, as well as the voyageur class (with 15 spaces), is already full.

Another change is that this year the four-person canoes (C4) have their own class. The C4 canoes were allowed in the race for the first time last year, but they were included in the voyageur class.

This change means the total available prize money jumps to $42,000 (from $39,200), as long as 100 or more teams are registered by June 1.

The stand-up paddleboard (SUP) class has also seen a numbers increase. When SUPs were allowed to participate for the first time in 2016, nine of the 11 registered paddlers crossed the finish line. In 2017, they were made an official class, and six of eight registrants finished.

For 2018, there are 15 spaces in the class – eight of which are already full.

There are also changes in terms of where paddlers are coming from. So far this year, 15 countries are represented (“Which is a record,” Brady said).

There are 96 teams total, coming from Australia, Belgium, Canada, Estonia, France, Germany, Japan, Latvia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Russia (a first for the race), South Africa, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

In fact, one of the only things that hasn’t changed in the last 20 years is the record for slowest time. Brady himself still shares that honour with his wife – when the two of them competed in the very first YRQ; they set such a leisurely pace, they completely missed the banquet at the end (“We stopped and took the tour at Fort Selkirk and everything,” he said).

Otherwise, he says the spirit of the race has remained the same, no matter how many more people are involved. It’s a good time on the river, in a race unlike any you’ll find anywhere else.

Participants can register online at YukonRiverQuest.com. Entry fees are $525 per solo team (canoe, kayak or stand up paddleboard); $950 per tandem team (canoe or kayak); and $300 per paddler for C4 and voyageur canoe teams.

Those wishing to volunteer can register online, or by attending the annual general meeting on Saturday, December 9 at Sport Yukon. Brady said increased numbers means the race needs more than its usual 225 volunteers.

For more information go to YukonRiverQuest.com or call them at (867)333-5628.