Aaron Burmeister's dogs, Kaltag

The 2021 Kuskokwim 300 Sled Dog Race is still scheduled to take place come January. With a record number of mushers signed up on opening day [16 in about the first 24 hours,] and an unparalleled number of COVID-19 cases spreading within the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta, race staff are making quite a few adjustments.

K300 race manager, Paul Basile says from the moment mushers arrive in Bethel, this year’s race will be different than usual.

“During the time before and after the race, while folks are here in Bethel, they’ll be in quarantine in these isolated housing setups.”

– Paul Basile

Race staff put out COVID-19 regulations and protocols back in September, requiring any visitor from outside the Yukon Delta, including mushers, handlers, and veterinarians; to have proof of a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of traveling to Bethel. After taking a rapid test in Bethel, the mushers and their handlers will be setup in a neutral isolation site, instead of staying with community members.

All indoor events related to the K300 will either be cancelled or held virtually as well.

Despite those initial changes, more adjustments will have to be made to the checkpoints and the trail itself. However, Basile says it is unclear at this time what the checkpoints will be like for this year’s race.

“The current recommendation from YKHC is that we not enter any of the village communities that usually serve as checkpoints. And so, at minimum what we’ll do is set up temporary, remote camps to serve as checkpoints, which will be a pretty significant change for the race, and change the experience for mushers quite a bit too.”

The normal 300-mile loop has been adapted before, mainly to account for poor trail conditions or a lack of ice. But, according to statements from the K300, the mid-distance sled dog race has never been cancelled in its 41 years of existence. This race would be the 42nd annual K300, if it does take place.

As of right now, the 2021 event is slated to begin on January 15th, but Basile says race staff are proceeding cautiously.

“We’ll be making a final decision about whether or not there’s a race, when we know the circumstances, closer to race time.”

19 mushers are currently signed up to run the race after veteran musher Wade Marrs withdrew from the roster. Those competing include big names like K300’s winningest musher Jeff King, last year’s champ Pete Kaiser, and 2019/2020 Yukon Quest winner Brent Sass.

Interested teams have until the end of this year to sign up and pay the refundable entry fee of $400. After that time, the cost doubles and it is non-refundable.

Image at top: A few sled dogs from Aaron Burmeister’s team, lined up and ready to go a few moments before departing Kaltag in the 2014 Iditarod Sled Dog Race. Photo from KNOM file.

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