Kuskokwim 300 no stranger to severe weather

K300 Race Chairman, Myron Angstman, mushing through blizzard conditions in the 1983 All Alaska Sweepstakes dog sled race near Nome. (James Barker photo)

In nearly four decades of competing, K300 mushers have endured everything from brutal cold and bare tundra to hard ice and heavy overflow. But this year, Bethel is experiencing its warmest winter ever – so warm that officials have had to contract and repeat the route to avoid open water. Even so, race officials say that this year doesn’t rank especially high in a long history of adverse weather.

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Myron Angstman is the chairman of the K300 Race Committee. He’s been involved ever since he helped found the race in 1980, the year when a blizzard obliterated the trail and prompted an unplanned 24-hour layover while volunteers scrambled to lay new stakes.

“The first year was horrendous, and there’s been many years ever since,” he said.

Those years have brought all kinds of challenging weather, from windchill that dips 100-degrees below zero to endless glare ice that sends even the best dog teams skidding.

One of Angstman’s favorite stories comes from a race defined by deep overflow. He was working on the trail crew when he passed two-time champion Rick Swenson wading through feet of water and muttering angrily to himself.

“He didn’t look real happy,” said Angstman. “And I said, ‘Jesus, Swenson. You do this for a living?'”

That smugness only lasted about an hour. Angstman got stuck in a different puddle just as Swenson caught up.

“He looked down at me and with the same tone I had used on him said, ‘You do this for fun?’”

Despite decades of unpredictable weather, the K300 has never been canceled. Officials have postponed the race and re-routed it, but they have always found a solution. Angstman said that this consistency is key to its longevity and reputation as a premier mid-distance competition.

“One of the reasons we’ve been here for 39 years is that we find a way to put on the race,” he said.

This winter is no different. Officials have decided to cut the trail in half and have mushers run it twice. That way they’ll avoid a scattering of open holes upriver, some so large that they span both banks.