Despite warm weather, open holes, and a new trail, the 39th annual Kuskokwim 300 Sled Dog Race is set to begin this evening.
All eyes are on Bethel musher and three-time champion Pete Kaiser. Will he earn what his fans are calling a four-peat after his three-peat last year? Kaiser is hoping so.
“It’s probably the most talented, athletic group I’ve ever had,” said Kaiser. “The question is, have we got the right training this year with the trails the last month to pull it off again? But we’re going to try.”
Contender Brent Sass had placed second to Kaiser in this race for the last two years. Sass doesn’t plan for that to happen again.
“I’m still here to win the race,” Sass said. “There’s no doubt about that.”
Both mushers are racing with different advantages. Kaiser’s team is mostly veterans, many with multiple K300’s and an Iditarod under their belt. Sass’s team is largely rookies, but Sass trained all season in the snowy Interior, while Kaiser stayed in Bethel, training on hard ice. That meant shorter runs and more rest days for his dogs.
Head K300 Veterinarian Mike Kubera says that these hard trails mean that he’ll be looking for particular injuries.
“With the ice, we expect to see a little bit more wrist and shoulder injuries,” said Kubera.
He’s also concerned about the potential for head-on crashes during passes with the new, tighter route chosen to avoid open holes on the river. K300 Board Chairman Myron Angstman alerted mushers to one major hole as mushers close in on the Bogus Creek checkpoint.
“So that’s a place where we don’t want our mushers to take any chances,” said Angstman. “Or if they can’t afford, for some reason, getting on the river, on off the trail there, they need to stop and wait until help comes along.”
That help would likely come from a volunteer, the lifeblood and work-horses of the K300. Bev Hoffman, Volunteer Coordinator, is still looking to fill a few openings.
“Oh, I have a few open slots. I don’t know why people don’t want to do the 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. slots,” said Hoffman.
The volunteer effort is the reason that the K300 can pay the highest purse of any Alaska mid-distance race: $150,000. With only 18 mushers competing this year, teams just have to finish, barring any disqualifying penalties, to get paid.
The Kuskokwim 300 starts at 6:30 p.m. tonight on the Charles Family Lake, located to the west of H-Marker Lake. Spectators are asked to park vehicles on H-Marker Lake. Fireworks will follow at 8 p.m. in the Bethel Donut Hole, near the Yukon-Kuskokwim Fitness Center.