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LISTEN: Kuskokwim 300 Manager Paul Basile on the upcoming sled dog race

Race Manager Paul Basile starts the Holiday Classic sled dog race in Bethel, Alaska on Jan. 6, 2023.
Katie Basile
Race Manager Paul Basile starts the Holiday Classic sled dog race in Bethel, Alaska on Jan. 6, 2023.

In the lead-up to the 2024 Kuskokwim 300 (K300), KYUK reporter Francisco Martínezcuello has been having conversations with members of the local mushing community.

Here’s a transcript of a conversation with K300 Race Manager Paul Basile that aired on Coffee@KYUK on Friday, Jan. 19.

The transcript has been lightly edited for reading flow. There may be some transcription errors.

KYUK (Francisco Martínezcuello): Hi Paul, how's it going?

Paul Basile: Good morning Francisco. Got the K300 coming up in just a week.

KYUK: Wow. It's like eight days, right?

Basile: Seven days, seven days. It's a week from [Jan. 19] at 8 p.m. on Friday, [Jan.] 26, the race will start, wow.

KYUK: Wow. Is it a new start time?

Basile: Yeah, that's an important thing. I want folks out in the public to know here in Bethel, who are going to hopefully be at the start line: we have changed the start time this year. It's typically for many years been at 6:30 p.m. This year, we're going to start at 8:00 p.m. And the reason for that is really pretty simple. Some might remember that last year it was warm, and particularly upriver there was some deep snow. So it was a really slow race. And when Pete Kaiser came to the finish in first place, it was almost 12:30 in the afternoon, which is highly unusual. You know, we typically expect the winner at the finish line at seven or eight in the morning. A couple of things we found: one is that having the finish a little later in the day, we ended up with a lot more people at the finish line, which was really nice, you know, really big crowd, much more than we usually have. It was also just nice to have the finish in daylight. And I know photographers appreciated that.

KYUK: Like KYUK photographers, for example.

Basile: Exactly. So our board decided that, you know, maybe it was a good idea to try and replicate that somehow. So by pushing the start time back an hour and a half, the hope is that the finish will be a little later in the morning. And we'll have some more people down there to enjoy it. And maybe some years there'll be daylight.

KYUK: How are things looking weather-wise?

Basile: Well obviously we've had a pretty erratic couple of weeks of weather, with a couple warm spells there and lots of wind. Obviously we lost a lot of snow. But really, things look pretty good right now. Our trail crews have just started getting out again in the last couple of days now that things are freezing up. And it sounds like things look pretty good. And the forecast is, I think, exactly what we need: it's going to be cold for most of next week. Our hope is that the concerns that we've had about overflow throughout the river system all winter will maybe be finally under control, with reduced snow and some serious cold. Of course we always hope for a little more snow once the ice is good. And there doesn't seem to be any snow in the forecast. But I did notice this morning that there's a 12% chance of snow [Jan. 25], which is up from the 3 or 4% they're calling for the rest of the time between now and the race. So all eyes on [Jan. 25] for a little bit of snow.

KYUK: For sure, for sure. And how does that work? Do you consult with the board and they talk to [Bethel Search and Rescue]? Or how do you check out those trail conditions and stuff like that?

Basile: Yeah, we do pretty frequently consult with Bethel Search and Rescue and Napaimute Corporation, they do a lot of ice thickness measurements. And so yeah, we're in pretty regular touch with them. But then our trail markers are seasoned travelers of river trails. We have some extremely experienced mushers on our board who know the trails out here very well. So we have a lot of knowledge to draw on when choosing our route and marking trail and so on.

KYUK: What kind of support do you need? Do you need some more volunteers or…?

Basile: Yeah always, as many in the community know, being part of the K300 as volunteers can be really exciting. It's a lot of fun. And our race really, truly exists in the form it does because of volunteers. There are, you know, hundreds of people between here and Aniak that get involved in lots of different ways. Yeah, there are still some particular needs we have. We need some more help at race headquarters during race weekend and some help with snowmachine support at the start line. But really there's a number of ways to get involved. And what people can do is go to our website, There's a menu item there called ‘Get involved.’ People can go there and tell us what they'd like to do.

KYUK: Can we do a rundown of the list of mushers that we've got so far, I believe you said something along the lines of 28 now, right?

Basile: Yeah, we're at 28. Which is more than we've had in many years. I don't know off the top of my head the last time we had that many, but it's been a while. And really in recent years, it's usually been more like 20. So we're really excited. As always, we have some of the best in the sport coming out. I'll just read down the list here.

KYUK: Yeah, sure.

Basile: I suppose there's a chance I'll mispronounce the name or two but we'll get it okay. So we have Travis Beals, Pete Kaiser, Ebbe Winstrup Pedersen, Joe Taylor, John Snyder, Dave Turner, Josh McNeal, Raymond Alexie, Gabe Dunham, Richie Diehl, Jessica Klejka, Riley Dyche, Matthew Failor, KattiJo Deeter, Cim Smith, Hunter Keefe, Isaac Underwood, Jeff King, Fr. Alexander Larson, Jeff Deeter, Jason Pavila, Nicolas Petit, Aaron Burmeister, Mike Williams Jr., Dakota Schlosser, Bailey Vitello, Ryan Redington and Ramey Smith.

KYUK: Wow, that's quite the list.

Basile: It's awesome. We're really excited. And, you know, generally these last few weeks before the race we have some teams withdraw, and we have had a few. But we're still holding steady at 28 teams, and it's certainly possible that it'll change in the next week. But it looks like those 28 plan to be here and plan to race. So I think it's gonna be really, really exciting.

KYUK: Was one of those that dropped off the list was Brent Sass?

Basile: Yeah, let's see, I can read off who's withdrawn: Brent Sass, Jesse Holmes, Eddie Burke Jr., Lev Shvarts. And the most recent one was Rob Cook, a Canadian musher.

KYUK: Okay. Yeah, cuz I was just reading that Sass won the, did he win the Copper Basin?

Basile: I believe so? Yeah.

KYUK: So yeah, it was pretty interesting to see that he, you know, dropped out of that, but I guess it was a scheduling competition. What are the things that you wanted to talk about? You know, we talked previously, but it never aired because of the postponement of the Bogus 150. Anything else that we should touch on?

Basile: Well, yeah, you know, I would like to talk a little bit about how people can enjoy the race while it's happening.

KYUK: Oh, yeah.

Basile: And of course, you guys at KYUK are a big part of that. As usual, we'll have GPS trackers displayed on the website, There’ll be frequent Facebook updates and, of course, a leaderboard on our website. In partnership with KYUK, we're expanding the live stream offerings this year. KYUK will be handling the broadcast at the start line. And for most of the finish line. And then we have some volunteers who are going to be at checkpoints. So for the first time we're gonna have some live streaming from checkpoints, which we're really excited to experiment with. And then, of course, the hourly radio updates on KYUK and interviews with every finisher. Yeah it's, every year it seems like there's more ways for people to spectate. And so it's exciting to see the way that evolves.

KYUK: Yeah, I can't wait. And talk to me about the [Akiak] Dash. I’m actually looking forward to the dash, to be honest with you.

Basile: Sure. Yeah. It's always an exciting race. And, you know, Raymond Alexie isn't in the race, so we don't know who's going to win. Registration for the dash hasn't opened yet. It's usually just the last week before the race, but we expect probably between 15 and 20 teams that start at noon on Saturday [Jan.] 27. And if conditions hold steady, it's going to be a real fast race.

KYUK: Yeah, sure is. And it's normally 50 miles or…?

Basile: It’s about 60.

KYUK: About 60.

Basile: Maybe 62 or something like that.

KYUK: Okay. Yeah, pretty exciting. They have a lot of young mushers, right, coming out and making it happen. Where can we see them? Right, I think we're gonna be able to, at least KYUK will be able to kind of talk to those folks at the mushers’ meeting, right?

Basile: Right. Yeah, the mushers meeting and K300 starting position selection is Thursday, [Jan.] 25. And yeah, KYUK will be there, of course, and have the opportunity to interview mushers.

KYUK: And what's the importance of the time? You know, the, I guess th,e like, would you say we're having you're having at the mushers meeting? It's just the placement, the time…

Basile: Of course, we review the rules for both races, but the K300 mushers select their starting position.

KYUK: Right.

Basile: And so K300 is a staggered start with two teams at a time, every two minutes. And so in the order in which they registered, they will select their starting position.

KYUK: Yeah. And I did have a question because sometimes I get confused as like, I guess the rest, or the stops during the K300. Can you explain that to me?

Basile: Sure, yeah, every racer in the K300 is required to take a total of 10 hours of rest. And six hours of that can be split however they like between Kalskag outbound, Aniak, and Kalskag inbound. And then everyone is required to stop at Tuluksak on the way back for four hours.

KYUK: And there's a certain amount of dogs, right? And where you can drop off the dogs. Is that correct?

Basile: Everybody starts with 12. And they have to finish with a minimum of five. And so for any number of reasons throughout the race, they'll – most teams drop some dogs along the way.

KYUK: And will veterinarians be around at any of those stops?

BASILE: Sure. We have an excellent veterinary crew this year. And we'll have at least one vet in each checkpoint, I think two in most cases, and a number of veterinary students helping out as well.

KYUK: Great. Yeah. And what makes the K300 kind of so special to this region? What does it mean to this community in the [Yukon-Kuskokwim] Delta?

Basile: Boy, a lot of things, I think. For one, I think it's really special that it's been happening for 45 years. You know, that's a pretty unique and remarkable thing. And it's, of course the race has evolved over the years. But it's still an event every year where we have some of the best mushers in the world coming to our community here in Southwest Alaska. And so the competition is exciting. But it's also just such a time of joy and togetherness in the community. And as the race manager, I marvel every year at the way people pull together as volunteers to make things happen. And when things go wrong, when there's an emergency of some kind or just, you know, when trouble arises, people really come together to help sort it out and make the race happen. And yeah, I don't think you can say enough about that.

KYUK: Yeah, I mean, my short time here, this will be my second K300. It's just, It's really amazing to see how close-knit these mushers are and how connected they are not only to each other and their dogs, but the to the communities as they, as they go by and they all know each other, and they all know the stops, and they just have so much fondness for the K300. I think that's pretty cool.

Basile: Yeah, and I think part of what's special too, particularly in this day and age is, you know, obviously, operating a dog kennel was always a big challenge, but it's become increasingly expensive. And so in most parts of the state, in most rural parts of the state, there just really aren't very many dog teams. And it's something for our region to really be proud of, that in some of these communities that tradition continues to thrive. K300 is just proud to be a part of that. And obviously, the main way we do that is by getting money to those kennels in the form of prize money. Across our seven races this year we're going to distribute $400,000. And the vast majority of that goes to Kuskokwim kennels. So it's a really special thing we've got going and we want to keep it going.

KYUK: Yeah, and you got to even increase the purses for the K300.

Basile: For all of our races this year.

KYUK: Right, right. Any ideas, I guess, [for] the target dates for the Bogus 150?

Basile: Yeah, the [Bogus] 150 has been rescheduled for Feb. 10.

KYUK: Okay.

Basile: That's a Saturday, which is gonna be interesting. I think I've heard from a number of mushers that didn't feel they were ready last week, that they're optimistic about having their team ready by Feb. 10. So I think we'll have maybe some more teams than we would have because of the delay.

KYUK: Yeah, that'll be exciting. Anything else that we should talk about that folks need to know about the K300? I obviously need to go to because that's where you have all your information, but what else should folks know?

Basile: Yeah, please do go to the website. The schedule of events is there including all the races and ancillary events and fireworks. All that is laid out there: musher profiles and links to their kennels and information about our sponsors and lots to do and see at the K300 website. But yeah, I hope everybody just gets excited and, you know, gets caught up in the spirit of K300 race week and tunes in with KYUK and visits us online.

KYUK: And volunteers.

Basile: Yeah, come volunteer. Come down to the start line. Enjoy the fireworks. Yeah, let's just be together and enjoy winter in Southwest Alaska.

KYUK: Thanks for stopping by. It's always a pleasure talking to you and getting immersed in the mushing world.

Basile: Likewise, Francisco, it's a pleasure to be here.

KYUK: All right, thank you very much.

Basile: Have a good day.

Follow along with the 2024 Kuskokwim 300 starting at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 26 at or on KYUK's Facebook page.

Updated: January 23, 2024 at 3:40 PM AKST
This conversation was recorded before some roster changes to the K300. Since this interview took place, Nicolas Petit, Aaron Burmeister, and Jeff King have pulled out of the 2024 K300.
Francisco Martínezcuello was the KYUK News Reporting Fellow from November 2022 through January 2024. He is a graduate of UC Berkeley School of Journalism. He is also a veteran of the United States Marine Corps.