Musher Brent Sass wins 1,000-mile Yukon Quest

Brent Sass hugs his two leaders, Morelo and Woody, in the finish chute. He said that he was testing out 3–year-old Woody in lead in this year’s Quest and the dog quickly became one of his main leaders. (Lex Treinen/KUAC)

Brent Sass pushed with a ski pole across the finish line in Whitehorse just before 3 p.m. Tuesday to capture his third Yukon Quest victory.

The athletic 40-year-old said he spent most of the last stretch of the race pushing and kicking with all his might.

“I think I’m probably just gonna throw these clothes away. I’ve been living in my sweat,” he said. “It was one of those deals where, with all the trail breaking stuff, I had to make sure that I did a lot of work to help the dogs. I love it and it’s all part of the deal, but I’m feeling it.” 

Sass said he’s broken more trail in this year’s Quest than ever before, beginning on the snow-drifted Yukon River.

At the finish line, his team was clearly hungry, scarfing down beef snacks and waiting attentively for second helpings. Sass said a conservative rest schedule coming out of Dawson City gave his dogs some strength in the final 200 miles.

“We ran different schedules leaving Dawson and mine was definitely a more conservative one,” he said, referring to his closest competitor throughout the race, Michelle Phillips. “It was a risk to give her an edge: She only camped twice across that big stretch and we camped three times with five-hour rests, but it was that rest that we banked that gave us the edge in the end I think.”

While Phillips seemed to have an advantage in the last 200 miles, Sass overtook her at one of her stops.

Brent Sass gives snacks to his dogs at the finish line of the Yukon Quest Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2019. Lex Treinen/KUAC

“I was sitting on Mandanna Lake, I was sitting out waiting for her trying to squeeze out every last bit of rest and when I saw her headlamp, you know, I started my cooker up and made my last wet snack and bootied the dogs quick,” he said. “And I left 10 minutes after her and within 10 or 15 minutes I caught her and passed her and just kind of left her in the dust at that point.”

After that, he said, he didn’t look back and had gained an important psychological edge.

“I was pretty confident that we had the speed at that point,” he said.

And in the last run into Whitehorse, he gained even more time on Phillips, who at times looked to be on track to become the first female Yukon Quest winner since Aliy Zirkle in 2000.

This year was all about Sass though. He said that after a shower and eating, he’ll have something else on his mind: the Iditarod. He has his team pretty much picked out.

“The dogs really proved they got what it takes,” he said.