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21 mushers are slated to race the 2023 Kuskokwim 300

Three past champions will race in the 44th running of the Kuskokwim 300 Sled Dog Race starting Jan. 27. The race runs from Bethel up the frozen Kuskokwim River to Aniak and back, bringing together 21 top mushers from the Kuskokwim and from across Alaska.

2022 winner Pete Kaiser of Bethel is back to seek his seventh win. Only Jeff King has more titles than Kaiser with nine victories. 2021 champion Richie Diehl and 2019 winner Matthew Failor join a competitive field that includes defending Iditarod champion Brent Sass.

Bethel musher Twyla Elhardt is racing in her first 300-mile race and is the only rookie competing. Three others are in Bethel for their first K300: Josh McNeal, Jeffery Deeter, and Jacob Witkop, though they have finished a 300-mile race before and will not be in the running for the Rookie of the Year prize.

Teams can expect a warm race with snow, rain, and temperatures reaching the mid-30s. And in the days leading up to the race, Richie Diehl has been tracking the weather.

“During Kusko week, you're following the forecast, following the forecast. It's always something with the forecast, you know. And if you let it get to you it gets kind of stressful, and I definitely let it get to me sometimes,” said Diehl. So it's like, just get out there because once you're out on the trail, it doesn't seem as bad as what you put in your head.”

Mushers take only six hours of discretionary rest, split up in the Kalskag and Aniak checkpoints as they choose. On the return trail, all mushers rest their teams for four hours in Tuluksak before the final 50 miles into Bethel.

They will compete for one of the richest purses in all of sled dog racing. The winner earns a prize of $25,000. The race starts at 6:30 p.m. in Bethel.

Ben Matheson has worked as a reporter for KYUK in Bethel and KNOM in Nome.