The fastest snow machine race on earth, the 47th Alcan 200 International

Snow Machine Road Rally, will roar to a start on Jan. 16 near Haines, Alaska.

Drivers sign up the night before, Jan. 15, at 5:30 p.m. at the Fogcutter Bar in Haines. Spectators buy their drivers by class in a Calcutta auction, and the flag is dropped on a weekend of epic snow machine racing.

The drivers meet at 9 a.m. the following morning, and the race fires off an hour later from the Canadian border at Mile 42, Haines Highway.

Zooming northward over ice, slush, snow and bare pavement, racers head down the Haines Highway through Yukon to Dezadeash Lodge, where they file in, turn around and head back to Haines and the finish line at Mile 42.

The Chilkat Snowburners Association organize the event. President of the Snowburners, Kathi Lapp, says the highway race is the only of its kind in North America.

The speeds of the racers are “quite fast,” she says.

Quite fast, that is, averaging over 160 km/h.

Last year’s winner, Greg Peede, from North Pole, Alaska, finished in under an hour and a half, averaging 168 km/h in the 551-650 Liquid class.

The course covers a distance of about 249 kilometres – the longest snowmachine race in North America. The race used to be about 322 kilometres, or 200 miles, hence Alcan 200, but was shortened within the first few years of its running after the start was moved from 10 Mile.

The contestants must use the same snow machine with mandatory gas stops at 75 Mile, 104 Mile and Dezadeash.

Categorizes are organized by snow machine class, and prizes are handed out to the first to cross the finish line and the order of finish in each class.

Cash prizes top out at $1,000 – a score in addition to prize money for podium finishing in the class and a cut of the earnings from the auction.

Special awards go to the Fastest Local (Haines), Fastest Out-of-Towner, Fastest Woman, Rookie of the Year, Poor Broke Down Bastard (first to break down), and the Red Lantern (last to finish).

Three Yukoners took to the podium last year, two of which won their class.

About two dozen drivers will turn out to this year’s race, and favourable road conditions of ice and a weather forecast of snow, are expected by Lapp.

“We will run the race no matter what the conditions are,” she says.

Poor visibility, extreme cold, bare pavement – the course is dangerous, treacherous and even fatal. In 2009 Jeffery Peede (brother to Greg Peede), 38, of North Pole, Alaska died when he crashed into a guardrail at 130 km/h due to blowing snow.

However, drivers travel from all over Alaska, the Yukon and British Columbia to gather for the event. Many drivers use this race to prepare for bigger races later in the season. A pair of northerners are set to return from Redmond, Oregon, to compete.

The public awards banquet and a prime rib dinner conclude the event at the American Legion Hall in Haines.

“We hope that we have a lot of competitors turn out and everyone will have a wonderful time,” Lapp says.