FAIRBANKS, Alaska — It could be very crowded on the trail when the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race is staged this winter.
Already more mushers have signed up for this year's race than competed last year, and people still have five more months to register.
Twenty-one mushers signed up Saturday when registration opened at the Yukon Quest cabin, well ahead of the 18 total mushers in the 2014 race, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported (http://is.gd/zXyE8E ).
Registrations will be accepted up until Jan. 2, and the 2015 race will start Feb. 7 in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. It ends about 1,000 miles away, in Fairbanks.
Rob Cooke of Whitehorse was the first musher to sign up Saturday, followed by defending champion Allen Moore. Brent Sass, who led for most of last year's race before an injury forced to scratch, also signed up.
Those registering Saturday will have their names put into a drawing to get back $1,300 of their $2,000 registration fee. The start order also is determined by drawing, and the order in which mushers draw their start position is set by when they sign up. Cooke gets the honor of drawing first.
The purse for the race will be at least $127,110 after race officials decided to add $12,110 in unclaimed prize money from last year's race to this year purse. The record purse was $150,000 in 2012 before declines in sponsorships and donations.
Organizers also have changed rest period rules for the 2015 race. The rest period in the Dawson City checkpoint will be reduced to 24 hours from 26 hours.
Mushers will also have six-hour layovers in either Braeburn or Carmacks. That used to be a four-hour layover.
A six-hour stop is now required in Eagle, an increase of two hours. A new six-hour mandatory stop has been added on the Alaska side, in either Circle, Central or at Mile 101.
All mushers must take a mandatory eight-hour rest at the last checkpoint in Two Rivers.
Moore told the newspaper he wasn't as confident as race officials that these rules changes will help teams.
"I actually think it's going to be harder on the dogs and the people," Moore said.
Sass battled Moore throughout much of last year's race, but fell and hit his head going into the final checkpoint, forcing his withdrawal. He has said the fall may have been caused by fatigue.
Sass told the News-Miner that in next year's race, he plans to pay better attention to getting proper rest. But otherwise, he doesn't see his strategy changing.
"I have to learn from what happened last year," Sass said. "I'm not going to ignore the fact that happened, but I'm not going to change that much. ... I think big picture, it's going to be the same Brent Sass that has run the Quest eight other times."
Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com