The 2021 Yukon River Quest will be happening, come hell or high water … and there will be high water

Fortunately, because of the Yukon’s relatively low COVID case count and efficient vaccine rollout, many summer events will be able to go ahead this year, but most large annual sporting events will still look different than normal. One such example is this year’s edition of the Yukon River Quest, the world’s longest annual marathon-paddling race.

The Yukon River Quest is put on each year by the Yukon River Marathon Paddlers Association (YRMPA), which has been in operation since 1998. Typically, the race involves local, national and international teams, but travel restrictions have forced this year’s race to downsize.
“It’s getting to the point where we need to sort out what’s happening with the non-Yukon teams,” explained YRMPA President Peter Coates. “Some will come and quarantine, but many won’t.”

At a certain point, it became obvious that international teams would not be able to take part in this year’s race. Many national teams have dropped out as well. Still, there is a chance a team each from Saskatchewan and Manitoba may be able to pull through, which Coates said he hopes to see, as the teams are rivals.
This year’s race will be roughly a third the size it normally is and mostly local, with 35 Yukon teams confirmed. Everyone who was signed up for the cancelled 2020 edition was given the option to be carried through to this year.

“It’s a shame it’s not back to normal this year,” said Coates. “But it’s really important to run the race, even if it’s just locals, to keep the brand alive and so we don’t forget how to do it.”
Coates said he recognizes that Yukoners are lucky to be able to participate in events when so many other parts of the country and the world still have much higher pandemic restrictions and even less certainty as to when they will be over.

It was difficult to have to tell teams they wouldn’t be able to participate in this year’s race, and also difficult to have to refund the money they had already sent, according to Coates. The uncertainty the YRMPA faced until recently also caused them to scramble to put the race together in a shorter time than usual, but they hadn’t wanted to put in all the organizational work for a race they weren’t sure would even happen.
“We all feel a little bit rusty this year because normally we sort of have a rhythm,” he said. “We lost that rhythm, and we couldn’t even get on with finding volunteers because we didn’t know what was going to happen.”

The amount of snow that managed to stick around into April this year may also have an effect on the river, but that won’t be enough to dissuade the paddlers either.
“Come hell or high water, we are having a race,” said Coates. “And it’s definitely going to be high water!”

This year’s edition of the Yukon river Quest will take place from June 23 to 26.
For more information and to keep up with the YRMPA, visit yukonriverquest.com.