This year’s Kuskokwim 300 sled dog race will happen after all, but with some major route modifications and a reduced field of teams. The mid-distance race is reverting back to a trail only used once before in 2018, when the K300 set up a 150-mile loop that mushers had to travel twice.
“On that occasion, the reason was hazards on the Kuskokwim River. But this year we’ve changed the route to avoid some of the village communities we typically pass through.”– Paul Basille, K300 Race Manager
Race Manager Paul Basille says the race trail will no longer go to Kalskag or Aniak and instead turn around halfway up the Kuskokwim River near Bogus Creek, before going back through Tuluksak and Bethel two times. That decision to change the route last minute had to do with COVID-19 precautions.
Despite this year’s race only having two checkpoints in Bethel and Tuluksak, Basille says there will still be mandatory layovers for the mushers along the trail.
“The rest rules are the same so they’re going to pass through Tuluksak four times. For the purposes of keeping things organized, we’re going to call each of those passes Tuluksak one, two, three, and four. Tuluksak Two serves as Kalskag outbound, the Bethel checkpoint serves as Aniak, and Tuluksak Three serves as Kalskag inbound, coming back home. So they can split their six hours between those three.”– Paul Basille, K300 Race Manager
And then the final four-hour mandatory layover must be taken at the Tuluksak campsite near the community, on the way to the finish in Bethel.
The K300 also recently announced that once the start date was pushed back from late January to this weekend, race staff lost the ability to house mushers in one of their isolated facilities. That meant the race committee stopped accepting new registrations from teams outside of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta who didn’t already have housing secured.
KYUK reported that seven out of the 16 total teams currently signed up are considered locals to the YK-Delta.
That decision and other factors whittled the list of registered teams down from almost 25 mushers signed up in January to now 16 mushers as of today. Big names like Brent Sass, Joar Ulsom, and Michelle Phillips all withdrew within the last month.
But as KYUK reported, the new start date has also allowed for more YK-Delta mushers to compete. K300 Board Member and race founder, Myron Angstman, told KYUK that having seven local mushers might have something to do with the race purse.
“The small field, the temptation to get into the K300 is higher because the purse money pays out to the [top] 20 and there’s only 16 teams. So they are assured winning a decent purse if they go along the trail, no matter how long it takes them.”Myron Angstman speaking with KYUK Radio
According to Basille, the latest storm to sweep across the region has drifted-in large sections of the pre-groomed trail. But the K300 race manager anticipates trail conditions will be good to go in time for the race start at 6:30pm tonight.
Image at top: Bethel’s own Pete Kaiser, at the finish line of the K300 in 2018. Photo: Katie Basile, KYUK; used with permission.