FAIRBANKS - Mushers preparing to head out on the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Trail have an extra worry this year when it comes to getting to the finish line.
The warm weather is melting snow on the trail, from Fairbanks to Whitehorse.
Sebastian Schnuelle, a Whitehorse, Yukon, rookie making his second try at the Quest, ran into wet spots, particularly a knee-deep patch 80 miles up the trail at Colorado Creek, when he went for a training run Tuesday.
"Ah, it's a little wet," Schnuelle said Wednesday during a mushers meeting. "I was on the trail in December; it was just a highway, beautiful. I guess it's not going to be that way. ... If this freezes up, it will be a skating rink."
The fear is the warm weather. Fairbanks hit a record high temperature of 46 degrees Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service.
The warm weather will make the conditions reminiscent of last year's icy trail. Because of the low-snow conditions on last year's trail, dogs had to be trucked from the first checkpoint at Braeburn Lodge to Carmacks, shortening the race by 79 miles.
This year, however, race manager Dave Rich said he is confident that the first 100 miles of the trails will hold up. Temperatures dropped to about 25 degrees by 5 p.m. Wednesday.
"They're probably going to set up pretty hard," Rich said.
Temperatures for Saturday's 11 a.m. start will be somewhere in the teens to mid-20s, according to the National Weather Service. That's about perfect for mushers, but a little too hot for dogs who prefer to run in weather ranging from 10 below to 10 above zero.
Trail breakers from farther up the trail are reporting better conditions along the 1,000 miles between Fairbanks and Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, and an abundance of snow, especially on the Canadian side of the race where it's hampering efforts to put in a trail.
More significant snow is not very likely, according to Aaron Tybruski, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service. Instead, mushers should expect temperatures somewhere between a high of 20 to a nighttime low of 5 below zero for much of the race in Alaska, Tybruski said.
Stephen Reynolds, Quest office manager in Whitehorse, said higher temperatures have been melting that end of the trail.
"We're losing it fast," Reynolds said Monday. "We're above zero (Celsius) and melting every day."
Sled dogs and their drivers won't see that end of the race until 10 to 12 days after the race start at 11 a.m. Saturday in downtown Fairbanks on the Chena River.
The Yukon River, which can sometimes be littered with jumbled ice, has almost no reported upheavals between Circle and Eagle.
"This is the best year I've ever seen it except for maybe 1994, and maybe it's better than that," said Jim Wilde of Central. "You can go anywhere. ... Some of the old-timers might not believe it."
For more information, look on the Web at www.yukonquest.com.