‘A long time coming’: Brent Sass bags first Copper Basin 300 win in 10 tries

Eureka musher Brent Sass stands on his sled runners during the 2022 Copper Basin 300 sled dog race. (Whitney McLaren/Copper Basin 300)

Brent Sass and his 10-dog team won the Copper Basin 300 sled dog race Monday.

And after coming in second the last two years, this is the first Copper Basin win for Sass and his Wild and Free mushing team.

That’s after two second place finishes in the Kuskokwim 300, three Yukon Quest championships — including back-to back-wins in 2019 and 2020 — and his highest-ever finish in the Iditarod, placing third in last year’s race.

Despite temperatures down to 60 below in this year’s Copper Basin 300, Sass says it was a smooth race.

Listen here:

The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

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Brent Sass: It’s kind of a long time coming, you know. The Copper Basin was the second race I ever ran, back in 2007. And this was the 10th time. It was a great victory.

Casey Grove: If you could just break it down for me, how did you race go from start to finish?

BS: Yeah, I mean, the race went smoothly. We laid out a plan. And we were pretty much able to execute it straight through. There isn’t a lot of variable in the Copper Basin 300 with the mandatory rest and stuff. So there’s a couple of different places you choose to take that stuff. And then we just got up on step. And the dogs were just amazing, you know, we train in such crazy conditions — in cold and warm and snowy and icy, we’ve had everything. So the dogs, they’ve seen most everything that we ran into on the race this year. And so that really helps, I think, in the end. And it’s just mind over matter with the cold, you know? That’s what it really comes down to. These guys can handle it. As long as you look at the details and watch the small things, the cold is not really that big of a deal.

CG: It almost feels silly at this point to ask dog mushers, like yourself: Was it cold? Or how cold was it? It sounds like it wasn’t a huge factor to you. But, how cold was it and did it change anything for you?

BS: Yeah, I mean, it was cold. My thermometer was bottomed out at 60 below at Sourdough. I don’t think it changed anything. You know, you have to just adjust. You have to pay attention to the small things: frostbite, making sure you’re putting all the protections you have on the dog, which we have to do anyways. It’s just a heightened awareness when it’s that cold because one little small thing can turn into a frostbite injury for the dog. So I think the stress level is a little bit higher, the awareness level has to be a little bit higher when it’s that cold. You got to make sure they eat. You got to do all the things that we do normally, you just have to, you know, have a little bit more of a closer look at everything.

CG: When you’re gearing up for longer races, how do you approach picking your team? Could you describe what your team’s makeup was like this year?

BS: Well, I have 26 dogs in training. I’m doing six races. So I have basically two teams — they’re not specific, this dog in this team and that dogs in that team. It’s kind of a bit cool. And this race was a mix of my top main dogs. I had seven of my top main dogs and five rookies — dogs that I had never raced, one had raced with a friend and the rest had never raced before. So it was an eyes wide open for those four. But they finished strong. And it just is a huge confidence builder for me because now we just won this race with seven of my best dogs and five of my up-and-comers. And that is a huge boost for me. That just tells me that my team is deep. And I’m really, really excited about that. And these young ones just proved they got it. I mean we won and it was in fine fashion.

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Casey Grove is the host of Alaska News Nightly and a general assignment reporter at Alaska Public Media with an emphasis on crime and courts. Reach him at cgrove@alaskapublic.org.

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