Bethel’s Pete Kaiser wins the Kuskokwim 300 sled dog race for the second year in a row. Last year he became the first local musher to win the race in 29 years. Sunday at 11:05 a.m. he joined Myron Angstman, the competition’s founder, as the only other Bethel local to win the premier mid-distance race two times.
Surrounded by a cheering crowd, Kaiser shot up the race chute into the arms of his finance, Bethany, Hoffman and son, Ari, as his friends, family, and neighbors spread around him, clapping and hollering.
“It was probably one of the hardest courses I’ve ever seen, a lot of challenges but it’s good to be here,” Kaiser said at the finish line.
Kaiser finished the race with an elapsed time of 40 hours and 36 minutes. He was followed by Brent Sass of Eureka by 10 minutes and Joar Ulsom of Norway who finished six minutes behind Sass.
Kaiser took the lead Saturday night when he left the inbound Kalskag checkpoint 19 minutes ahead of Ulsom with 100 miles left in the race. By the time Kaiser pulled into the inbound Tuluksak checkpoint, 50 miles later, he’d almost doubled that lead. He left Tuluksak 34 minutes ahead of the pack, racing the final stretch overland to the finish.
Ulsom gained on the leading musher, but Kaiser never lost his edge. Brent Sass overtook Ulsom about four miles from the finish to claim the runner-up position.
Seven dogs pulled Kaiser into the chute, many of the same dogs who lead Kaiser to victory the year before.
The musher said last year’s run gave him a better understanding of his team’s capabilities. “It seemed like last year they finished with an excess amount of energy and speed. And if it came down to it, I could get a little bit more out of them this year.”
Kaiser said he applied a similar strategy to this race as he used in the last K300— a conservative pace to Kalskag and a push at the end. But having better learned his team, this time Kaiser loosened the reins.
“I pushed them a little harder early on in case there was a bigger gap to close by someone who get farther ahead of me early on.”
The $130,000 K300 purse surpassed the Yukon Quest purse of 2015 to become the second highest annual purse in dog racing, behind only the Iditarod. Kaiser won $25,000 for his victory.
Polished ice and hard wind battered most of the slick, snowless trail. Open holes and bare ground offered other dangers. Many mushers veered off course and multiple sleds busted on the unforgiving terrain.
Kaiser said the river was one of the tougher courses he’s seen, but his lead dog Palmer guided them through the troubles. “And that was really handy in a lot of tricky spots with glare ice and side wind and finding trails,” Kaiser said. “He made a big difference in helping getting us here smoothly and quickly.”
Kaiser has competed in the K300 seven times, placing in the top six of those times. He’s also competed in the Iditarod, won the Sportsmanship Award in 2010 and the Best in the West award twice.