Bethel’s Kuskokwim 300 race begins tonight, Jan. 17. Mushers from around the state have already picked their bib numbers and are looking forward to good race conditions.
The Bogus Creek 150 will start at 5 p.m., followed by the main event, the Kuskokwim 300, at 6:30 p.m. Fireworks will start shortly after. On Saturday, mushers will take off in the Akiak Dash’s mass start at 2 p.m.
Defending K300 Champion Matthew Failor is not looking for a Re-Pete win, which was the chant for Bethel’s Pete Kaiser, who won the K300 four times in a row.
"Since you put it that way, it might be to 'Re-Matt' not 'Re-Pete,'" Failor said.
Bottom line: He thinks his dogs can bring him that second K300 trophy.
"We’re trying to win, and I don’t feel weird saying that because I know the dogs can," Failor said.
He’ll be racing 20 competitors for the K300 championship. Failor just raced the Copper Basin 300 in below-zero temperatures, which had many teams pulling out. But the forecast for this weekend is similar to last year's, with temperatures just above or at zero, and more snow on the trail.
The race will begin right below the Bethel Port office, and runs along the traditional route to Aniak and back. There is a small route change, though. Instead of running through Straight Slough, mushers will go through Steamboat Slough. K300 Board Chair Myron Angstman says that the trail will be well marked to guide mushers through the change.
This winter has been a hard season for regional sled dog teams. Aniak musher Richie Diehl says that he had tough training conditions because he didn’t get snow until December.
"I’m not going to lie, I’m a little edgy on miles, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I think they are still ready for it," Diehl said.
Diehl says that trail conditions up near the Aniak checkpoint are similar to those in Bethel, but he doesn’t think the race will be as fast as last year's because some parts of the trail are soft, especially around Whitefish Lake.
Meanwhile, reigning Iditarod champion and four-time K300 winner Pete Kaiser appeared confident about this upcoming race, despite the tough training conditions he faced in Bethel.
"I think I’ve had the least pre-race trail anxiety I’ve ever had leading up to this race," Kaiser said.
His leaders, Morrow and Lucy, who helped lead him to his first Iditarod victory, will be back. And he says that many of the dogs in his team are in their prime as he seeks his fifth K300 win.
Meanwhile, a new face is joining the roster. A last-minute addition, Paige Drobny, a musher from Cantwell who finished in the Iditarod top ten last year, is running her first K300 with a young team.
"Half the team has never raced before, so we’ll see who wants to keep leading the team after 200 miles," Drobny said.
Her husband is running their A-team in the Yukon Quest in February. She says that the K300 is good training for their inexperienced dogs.
Tune into KYUK 640 AM to hear live updates and race coverage beginning at 4:45 p.m. today, Jan. 17, and all throughout the weekend.
Laura Kraegel contributed reporting.