At least three mushers will hit the trail Saturday for the Nome-Council 200. Two local teams and a Kotzebue musher are registered to race from Nome to Council and back.
Two big names in the local mushing scene are set to race this weekend, but so is a competitive newcomer from out of town. Challenging Nome’s Diana Haecker and Stephanie Johnson is Paul Hansen of Kotzebue.
Hansen is a Kobuk 440 finisher, and he’s treating this race as an Iditarod qualifier. That’s according to Chrystie Salesky, a race organizer and president of the Nome Kennel Club. She said Hansen’s presence should ramp up the competition.
“The local mushers are pretty comfortable with this trail, but adding that new team from Kotzebue makes it more exciting and pumps up the level of competitiveness,” she said. “You want to challenge yourself and the dogs to see how you can compete against a totally new, outside person. I think that will be fun and add some excitement to the playing field.”
Salesky said the field could also fill out further, with three more mushers in the process of registering. No matter how many teams race, she said they’ll face tough conditions as they follow the Iditarod trail past the Solomon blowhole and over the Topkok hills before turning north outside of White Mountain and moving overland to Council.
“It sounds pretty bare,” she said. “Just from riding myself, the trail’s kind of wind-blown and icy, so it should be a pretty hard-packed trail.”
For the safety of mushers and their dogs, race officials are requiring a longer rest this year: 10 hours instead of just six. Salesky said teams must rest on the outbound journey, but they can split their time between Topkok and the Council checkpoint.
Also new this year: Mushers can drop as many as two dogs when they reach the halfway point. Salesky said three airplanes will be in Council to handle dropped dogs and support race officials. There will also be several snowmachiners, 15 volunteers, and a veterinarian from Anchorage.
For Race Marshal Diana Adams, the extra rest and added support is all about making the race more competitive and consistent. While the Nome-Council 200 was popular in the early 2000s, it has since happened on-and-off. Going forward, Adams said officials are hoping to establish the race further.
“It’s exciting that we’re doing this race for the second year in a row and that it is an Iditarod qualifier,” she said. “I’m hoping that will attract mushers throughout the state to look at Nome as a viable place to come and do some of their mileage and time.”
This year, competitors will have spot trackers attached to their sleds. Fans can follow their progress live on the GPS tracker found on the Nome Kennel Club Facebook page.
The Nome-Council 200 will begin Saturday at 10 a.m., with mushers taking off in a mass start near the snow dump on Greg Krushek Avenue. Officials estimate the winner could arrive in Nome as early as mid-afternoon on Sunday.