PUBLISHED: 3:54 PM on Wednesday, January 16, 2008
39th Annual Alcan 200 reigns in speed seekers
Every year snowmobile riders will consume a stretch of the Alcan Highway in a flash of speed. The 39th annual Alcan 200 snowmobile race will take place Jan. 19, running from the Canadian border to Dezadeash Lake and back, about 150 miles.

Participants usually come from the Yukon Territory, "mostly Whitehorse, Fairbanks, Tok, Interior Alaska and Anchorage, said organizer Karen Hess. "Sometimes we will get participants from Juneau and we have had (in the past) participants from Smithers B.C."

The Alcan 200 provides a unique racing ground in that it is a highway road race. The first race 38 years ago "started at 10 mile in Haines and ran all the way to Dezadeash Lake and returned, this made it a 200 mile race," Hess said. "Since then, there has been an Alaska law put into place that you cannot ride snowmobiles on the State Highways in Alaska. That is when the Canadian Highway became the race route. It takes off at 42 mile, just past the Canadian Customs Station, goes to Dezadeash and returns which is roughly 150 miles round trip. The Canadian Highway is closed for this event only for a few hours on the race day."

Several classes of machines participate in the Alcan 200 and so each class is awarded with a first, second and third place prize including money and trophies.

Courtesy Photo
  The Alcan 200 can present a variety of hazardous conditions. In this photograph, racers prepare along the Alcan Highway during last years race on a considerably beautiful day.
"The prize money will be generated from raffles, registration fees and an auction in which the racers are auctioned off. The auction is called the Calcutta Auction and this is where we get the crowd involved and they can bid on their favorite racer."

Besides the auction spectators can seeaction at either end of the course.

Riders as young as 16 may compete in this harrowing speed race, which combines both machine and human stamina. Competitors will nearly fly through the course at speeds well over 100 mph.

Last years winner, Craig Hill of Fairbanks averaged 120.08 mph. Last year he used a Yamaha SRX700, modified for the road, which goes up to 140 mph. That 120 mph average is includes four stops throughout the race--meaning top speeds are closer to 140 mph.

"It's an adrenaline rush, its hard to describe, its just a lot of fun to go fast," said Hill who has won the last two years in a row. "There is no where else you can go this fast for this long. Technology has gotten better too so now we can go up to speeds that cars don't even go, and we are on a snowmachine!"

Craig and his brother Colby, who has also won the Alcan 200 several times, run a motor sports shop in Fairbanks and have been around the sport since they were kids. First officially racing in 1994, Craig Hill grew up racing motocross as well, "anything that has a motor in it," Hill laughed.

Every year the conditions of the race are different.

"We always hope for good snow on the top of the pass, but sometimes they might have as much as 20 miles or more with bare pavement. The other thing that they might have to worry about would be whiteout conditions," says Hess.

Though there have never been any fatal accidents in the history of this race, the racers are required to wear chest protectors and shin guards as well as helmets.

"There can be poor visibility in the morning, going up from sea level you rise to around 3,300 feet at the pass. I've run it in all sorts of conditions, Last year it snowed and two years ago we couldn't get through the course until it was plowed," said Hill, "You could run a 20 mile stretch of asphalt or you could have two foot high snow drifts. I've seen 20-30 degrees below zero, the worst part I would say is the cold, but I've also been there when it's been raining," said Hill. The Hill brothers will be competing again in this year's race.

The race has been organized for the past several years by Pete and Diana Lapham.

"This year, I will be involved with the race for organization," said Hess, "but we are going to elect a new board to our organization (Chilkat Snowburners) and there is a lot of new blood in town, so we are hoping to get some of our younger generation involved. This includes our kids and their friends who are all in their 30s and 40s.

"We hope to attract more Canadians this year because the exchange rate is in their favor. The Canadian exchange rate has always been a determining factor for race entrants."

Snowmobiles will vary in size and years. Typically there are classes ranging from 0-440 cc all the way up to the unlimited class, which is called the Open class.

There are also older sleds racing because there is an award and prize money for the oldest sled to finish in the fastest time. Though the number of entrants is not finally known until the night before the race, typically there will be 30 to 40 racers. However there have been as many as 60. In 2007 there were 38 participants, 25 of those finished.

"Usually there are one or two women who participate," said Hess. "The women are not given a handicap either; they race with the men in the class that they enter into. This is a very tough endurance race. That is why our motto is "It ain't for sissies."

By the time the racers roar over the finish line there will usually only be officials and timers left to usher them in.

Later there will be a banquet and trophies awarded to the racers who have held their machines together and made it through what is a truly unique event.