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There’s not much that celebrates the northern spirit and lifestyle quite so perfectly as the Yukon Quest, a 1,000-mile sled dog race between Fairbanks, Alaska and Whitehorse, Canada. Every February, dog teams brave the mail trails, frozen rivers, and historic Gold Rush routes of the Yukon River Valley in temperatures as low as -50 degrees. The race course takes mushers hundreds of miles from the nearest settlement, alone with their dogs and whatever they can carry on their sleds, with no help from crews between checkpoints.
On the Canadian side of the Quest, coordinating operations and supporting the mushers are enabled by an extensive cell phone network in the Yukon. The Alaskan half is another story. With no permanent infrastructure to rely on, organizers turned to HughesNet® satellite broadband for high-performance Internet connectivity on the U.S. leg of the race.
The team uses email, social media, and VoIP to check on supplies, coordinate personnel movement, and file flight plans. Journalists file stories and images from checkpoints; race teams blog live from the route; and thousands of fans track progress on the Web and through social media.
“The U.S. side is a total dead zone,” said Marti Steury, executive director of Yukon Quest. “Northern Alaska has no cellphone coverage more than 10 minutes outside of Fairbanks. Alaska Satellite Internet and Hughes have been critical for providing connectivity at the checkpoints.”
Alaska Satellite Internet, a Hughes reseller, has provided Yukon Quest with Hughes satellite broadband service for six years. In 2013, Hughes donated four Hughes satellite terminals and HughesNet Gen4 Business Internet service for the checkpoints. Alaska Satellite owner Will Johnson, who maintains a full-time Hughes account for the Yukon Quest Web site, donated the installation and maintenance service.
To get the service set up at the checkpoints, Johnson flew his small plane to each location, carrying Hughes satellite broadband equipment including antennas, radios, and modems. He landed on a roadway at one checkpoint that lacked an airstrip; two other sites had no electric grid, so Johnson connected the satellite equipment to generators.
“The HughesNet service worked beautifully,” said Johnson. “We had a small glitch when we lost access to service tokens, but we got good support from Hughes and got them back. It’s a pretty darn powerful service with good customer support.”
“The Internet is our lifeline,” added Steury. “We start at the same spot, then leapfrog from one checkpoint to another during the race. We have personnel and material spread over 500 or 600 miles, so it’s vital that we know where everyone is and what they’re doing.”
In previous years, high demand for bandwidth at the checkpoints had crashed the team’s Internet connections. This year, not only did the checkpoints have more than enough bandwidth, but the higher-capacity service provided the Yukon Quest with a tool for promoting itself, as well as for coordinating operations.
“Because we’re operating on a lineal, thousand-mile-long playing field, it’s hard to get direct fan participation in the race,” said Steury. “What Hughes has done is open us up to a global fan base. We do something very unique here. We and the Iditarod are the only 1,000-mile sled dog races in the world.”
Unique, indeed. And Hughes is delighted to play a role in keeping the mushers connected during this exciting adventure at the top of the world.