Pete Kaiser Wins Fourth Consecutive Kuskokwim 300
Pete Kaiser won his fourth consecutive Kuskokwim 300 title Sunday morning, arriving in Bethel shortly after 9:00 a.m. With the victory, Kaiser did what no other musher has done in 39 years: win four straight victories. Joar Leifseth Ulsom arrived in second place, while nine-time champion Jeff King was expected in third place.
Kuskokwim River, race organizers scrapped the traditional trail and devised a plan for mushers to run two laps on an overland trail to Bogus Creek and back. Teams would face rough ice over winding tundra trails, frozen creeks, and wide open lakes.
Kaiser said at the finish that both he and the dogs struggled to get traction on the ice.
“When it’s icy like that, the dogs have to focus so much more on each step, the musher also. I'm trying to keep the sled from hitting a bump sideways and slipping over," said Kaiser. "It’s just mentally taxing. It’s different from a snow-covered trail where they can zone out and move along at an easy clip. Overall, physically, mentally, everything. A tough race.”
Kaiser has spent the training season here, his first since 2012 that he hasn’t traveled outside of the region to find good snow. That means that before the race he didn’t have as many miles as some of his competitors, but his veteran team was prepared.
“We live out here and train out here, so we’re a little more comfortable than most, probably, but it still didn’t make it comfortable. It was extremely tough, probably one of the toughest, if not the toughest, races I’ve ever done," said Kaiser.
Following the Friday night start, the race looped up to Bogus Creek and back on the same trail. After a brutal 140 miles teams were back in Bethel, but were only halfway. After a few short hours of rest they had to turn around and do it all over again. That prospect proved to be impossible for several elite teams: over the span of Saturday afternoon, four teams scratched. Brent Sass, Aaron Burmeister, Jessie Holmes, and Cim Smyth all pulled out in or near the Bethel checkpoint.
The new trail threw traditional rest strategies out the window. Ulsom split his discretionary rest into three parts: four hours on the inbound Tuluksak stop of the first loop and an hour each in Bethel and Tuluksak in the second loop. Kaiser spent two hours in the inbound Tuluksak stop on the first loop and a full four hours at the halfway mark in Bethel.
By the time mushers reached Tuluksak on the second and final trip to Bogus Creek, the race picture came into clear view. Ulsom arrived first into Tuluksak and while he banked his final hour, Pete Kaiser blew through the checkpoint to secure the lead as he marched northeast. Kaiser was posting the fastest run times and never looked back. Kaiser had 33 minutes on Ulsom for the final trip to Bogus and back to Tuluksak. From here, Kaiser would only grow his lead over Ulsom. Arriving at Tuluksak, Kaiser had an hour and five minute edge over Ulsom. After a quick four hours of mandatory rest, he dropped one dog and was less than 50 miles away from an unprecedented fourth consecutive title.
Joar Liefseth Ulsom’s second place finish is the best in his career, improving upon a third place finish in 2016. At the finish, he said that he couldn’t train for the Kuskokwim conditions from his Willow kennel.
“They know how to handle all sorts of different conditions, but you never know how they’re going to do until you’re doing it," said Ulsom.
While Jeff King has won three straight on two occasions, Kaiser’s four straight victories earn him a spot in the history books. Kaiser also eclipses Mitch Seavey on the career victories list, trailing only Jeff King.
Kaiser wins $25,000 from the $150,000 purse.