Standing on a sled controlling fourteen huskies who are pulling you and the sled over ice and snow, through wind chills of 50 below and blizzards for hours on end, overnight, day after day, is not an eccentric activity in Alaska. It’s the state sport.
Mushing in Alaska is like football in Oregon or baseball in Boston. There are fanatics. There are professional mushers–the hometown heroes; the seasoned veterans with big-name sponsors, first-class dogs and years of Iditarod wins; the up and coming stars with speed and youth and energy. And there is professional sports coverage.
KNOM is one of the many local press agencies that covers sled dog racing season in Alaska. And last weekend we KNOM Volunteers covered our first race: the Kuskokwim 300, a three hundred miler up and down the Kuskokwim river.
You see, for those unfamiliar with the sport, there’s more to sled dog racing than the Iditarod, the mother of all sled dog races, the 1049 miler from Alaska’s urban mecca through the frozen Interior to the burled arch in Nome. Before Iditarod comes, before March, there are shorter races in January and February which are just as serious and intense. These mid distance races at three hundred to four hundred and fifty miles feature premiere mushers duking it out in a shorter amount of time, with fast dogs and brutal conditions. And KNOM covers these mid-distance races, broadcasting updates to sled dog fanatics listening and waiting for updates on their favorite mushers.
The Kuskokwim 300 is the one race KNOM covers that does not go through or end in Nome. So, this past weekend, we KNOM Volunteers did no live reporting, no interviews with mushers at the finish line, no sitting in a car outside of the city and radioing back over a UHF (radio talk for fancy walky-talky) when we spot a mushing team heading towards Nome. But we did follow the excitement online, compile race updates, give weather conditions, and other information that a fan might want to hear.
It was really fun learning about the sport. And I can’t speak for the other volunteers, but I’m fired up. Never in my life did I expect to be a sports commentator–but I can’t wait to report on the the next sled dog race.