Twenty-five mushers are set to race from Bethel to Aniak and back in the 36th running of the Kuskokwim 300. After a couple winter warmups, and little snow, this year’s trail follows the truck road on the river almost exclusively to Aniak and back, cutting out the loop near Whitefish Lake.
That trail is expected to be icy and fast. Nenana musher Aaron Burmeister isn’t phased by a slick trail.
“One year it could be deep snow an a white out and a blizzard, the next year open water or glare ice. Right now from what I’m seeing, these are favorable conditions. I’ve been here seven times, this is one years of better conditions I’ve seen,” Burmeister said.
Crews from several Kuskokwim villages worked together to clear a large jumbled section of ice resulting from a November break up. Vehicle traffic has further improved the ice. In any case, defending champion Rohn Buser says after running in little snow around Big Lake, his team is ready for a hard trail.
“We’ve been training on that pretty much all year. Maybe not quite as icy, it will probably a little harder footing, but we’ve had pretty firm, pretty hard packed trails, so we’re used to running on that,” Buser said.
The race mileage was estimated at 260 to 270 miles at the musher’s meeting Thursday. Eight of the top 10 mushers from 2014 return, including 9-time champing Jeff King.
“I’m not sure my team is the fastest, in fact I’m quite sure it’s not, but there won’t be anyone with more depth of conditioning. I’ve got a big team, a physical team. They’re not little peewee ice dogs, man, these are musk ox, but they’re fast musk ox,” King said.
Veteran Yukon Quest and Iditarod musher Brent Sass is in Bethel for his first K300.
“I’m excited to see new county I don’t have a lot of concerns. I have to be aware that I don’t lose the trail, but it sounds like the trail is marked well. I’m going to rely on my dogs to stay on the trail, I’m just really excited to be here. I wanted to run this race for a long time and the opportunity arose and we’re here. We’re ready to race,” Sass said.
Fan favorites DeeDee Jonrowe and Lance Mackey are back for the Kusko, along with six YK Delta mushers. First on the trail will be Ken Anderson, departing alongside Brent Sass. Mushers will be limited to 12 dogs, down from 14 in past years.
Six teams are registered for the Bogus Creek 150. The Akiak Dash is Saturday.
The K300 is not allowing spectator vehicles on the ice at the start due to the condition of the ice. They urge travelers to be extra cautious this weekend sharing the truck trail with dog teams.