FAIRBANKS — For the sixth year running, Brent Sass was first in line to sign up for the 2012 Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.
Being the first contender to officially plunk down the $1,500 entry fee has become an annual tradition for the musher who will have two teams from his kennel running the race for the second consecutive year.
Running Sass’s second team will be his handler, Kyla Durham, who was the second of 15 mushers to sign up Saturday for the event, listed as the toughest sled dog race in the world.
Two Yukon Quest luminaries — Lance Mackey and Sonny Lindner — now listed as No. 3 and No. 7, respectively, on the current roster, secured their places while stopping by the Alaska Quest headquarters in the First Avenue log cabin next to Golden Heart Plaza.
A party-like atmosphere reigned inside and outside the Quest cabin with a fancy ice cream social set up on the lawn next to the Chena River where mushers hobnobbed and talked dogs with the media and well-wishers.
Likewise, a simultaneous sign up party was being held across the border on the Canadian end of the trail in Whitehorse, Yukon, featuring a volunteer appreciation party and barbecue.
The 1,000-mile race between Fairbanks and Whitehorse is slated to begin Feb. 4, 2012, with the starting gate located in Fairbanks for the 27th competition.
Lindner was the winner of the first Yukon Quest in 1984.
Mackey has won the race four consecutive times — 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009 — and came in second place in 2009.
Both mushers plan to follow up the 2012 Yukon Quest 1,000 mile sled dog race, with another long distance race, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Their motivation to run each long distance race consecutively goes beyond fame or the money.
“I’ll get to spend more time on the trail,” Lindner said. “Otherwise, I have to wait a whole year.”
Mackey expressed similar sentiments.
“I’m totally at peace out there,” he said referring to the trail. “It’s a place for me to get away from everything and enjoy life to the fullest.”
Mushers signing up opening day for the 2012 race include: 1. Brent Sass; 2. Kyla Durham; 3. Lance Mackey; 4. Judy Currier; 5. Abbie West; 6. Jason Weitzel; 7. Sonny Lindner; 8. Mike Ellis; 9. Paige Drobny; 10. Becca Moore; 11. Tony Angelo; 12. Misha Pedersen; 13. Gus Guenther; 14. Allen Moore; 15. Colleen Robertia.
The Quest board announced Saturday that Kathleen McGill will return as head veterinarian for the 2012 Yukon Quest.
The new executive director in Canada, Sue Thomas, who was born in Whitehorse, was introduced Saturday.
Thomas’s background includes working as a communications manager and senior policy analyst with the Province of British Columbia, as well as experience on boards and with not-for-profit organizations.
Alaska’s executive director, Marti Steury, introduced two new Quest staff members, Maria “Frog” Roberts, as assistant director, and J.C. Fletcher, sales and events manager.
A guaranteed minimum purse of $150,000 for the 2012 race also was announced Saturday.
Steury was pleased with Saturday’s opening day signup turnout.
“It’s so exciting to start a new race and have the energy starting to build in the summer,” she said.