The Kuskokwim 300 Sled Dog Race begins next Friday, Jan. 17. Top mushers have signed up for the main race, and the K300 Race Committee is looking for more volunteers to host the competitors and their dog teams.
So far, 19 mushers have signed up. It’s an impressive roster, boasting four Iditarod champions, including Bethel’s Pete Kaiser, as well as four other Iditarod top-five finishers, alongside three Yukon Quest champions.
Kuskokwim 300 Board Chairman Myron Angstman calls the field "more top heavy than usual."
“And that’s one thing the people who’ve called me have mentioned, ‘Boy, what a field you’ve got this year,’” Angstman said.
The Kuskokwim 300’s tough trail along a frozen river and over rough tundra is now well established as a proven training ground for teams, and the substantial prize money makes the trip worthwhile. The $160,000 purse is the second largest mushing purse in Alaska.
“There are teams that feel that mile-per-mile, we pay better than anybody, which is correct,” Angstman said.
That large purse is due to growing sponsorship and the volunteers who make the race happen. This large, unpaid labor force keep costs low, payouts high, and top mushers coming back.
The mushers also return because coming to Bethel is a sweet deal. This year, mushers will get free massages and passes to soak in the Bethel Fitness Center hot tub, as part of a post-race "Musher’s Spa."
There are other perks.
“We make a commitment to the mushers who’re coming out here that we’re going to help them with transportation around town. We’re going to find them a place to stay where they can take care of their dogs,” said Kuskokwim 300 Race Manager Paul Basile.
To keep this commitment, more volunteers willing to host mushers are still needed.
Hosts open their homes to a musher and their handler and provide yard space for dogs. The city provides extra water for hosts on hauled systems. Many families have hosted the same musher for years, forming strong connections with prominent competitors and developing personal connections to the race.
“One of the things I’ve heard from several hosts who have done it a lot is that it’s really great for kids. Kids that are excited about the race, excited about the sport, to get to have that kind of experience hanging out with some big-time musher is a really exciting thing,” Basile said.
One of those kids became the reigning Iditarod champion.
“Pete Kaiser acknowledges that his early exposure to outside mushers that came in and stayed with his family was part of his early introduction to dog racing and part of the appeal that got him into the sport,” said Angstman.
Angstman reminds folks who are interested in hosting, that mushers are not demanding guests: “If they can sleep in a sled in a snowbank somewhere, which all of them can, they can certainly find some corner to sleep in in the house.”
To sign up to host a musher, call Kuskokwim 300 Race Manager Paul Basile at 907-545-3300.