The 2017 Kobuk 440 sled dog race begins today in Kotzebue.
16 teams will head out in a mass start in front of the Nullagvik Hotel at 12:30 p.m. The trail stretches from Kotzebue through Noorvik, Kiana, Ambler, and Shungnak out to Kobuk and back.
Mushers drew for their bib numbers at a sheefish potluck in Kotzebue last night with the high school band playing the National Anthem. Kobuk 440 Board President and race coordinator Carmen Daggett explains that the bib numbers don’t correspond to starting order, as it will be a mass start for all sixteen teams. “It’s to help us keep track of which mushers are where, and so that the public can identify people.”
2016 Kobuk 440 champion Nicolas Petit returns again this year, not long after claiming 3rd place in this year’s Iditarod sled dog race.
Western Alaska mushers Richie Diehl of Aniak and Katherine Keith of Kotzebue will join names like Hugh Neff, Jim Lanier, and Jason Mackey. Jeff King will be racing against his daughter, Ellen King, this year.
Second place Iditarod finisher Dallas Seavey will be making his Kobuk 440 debut alongside this year’s 6th place Iditarod finisher, Wade Marrs.
Kevin Hansen of Kotzebue will be competing in his first-ever distance sled dog race. Hansen’s father, Paul, finished his rookie run of the Iditarod this year.
Four mushers withdrew before the race start due to various concerns for personal health or sick dogs. Those four include Tony Browning, Cim Smith, Emily Maxwell, and Chuck Schaeffer. The total number of mushers allowed to compete in the Kobuk 440 is capped at 20.
With final preparations underway before today’s mid-day start, Daggett says “the weather is supposed to be good, and the trail is well-marked, pretty solid. It’s been pretty cold here leading up to the race. It just started to warm up the last of couple days. At least it’s not –20° here, like it has been for the last several weeks. We haven’t had a lot of snow, so it’s really kind of laid down quite nicely, recently, and it should be just about right for mushing.”
Daggett says the first teams are expected to cross the finish line in Kotzebue sometime late Sunday night or early Monday morning. The finisher’s banquet will be held Monday at 6pm.
The purse total this year is $60,000.