Y-K Delta mushing season to kick off Dec. 4
Despite a decrease in the purse money for the races and an ongoing pandemic, the local mushing season is shaping up to be a good one. A slew of local mushers have already signed up for the season’s biggest race: the Kuskokwim 300. And an early cold snap means that the season-opening races are likely to go on more or less as scheduled, starting with a 32-mile race this Saturday, Dec. 4.
Paul Basile is the manager for the K300 Race Committee. He said that in addition to the Kuskokwim 300 itself, the committee puts on seven other sled dog races each season. After the Season Opener on Dec. 4, there’s the Holiday Classic, currently scheduled for Dec 18. Then will come the three best known races: the Bogus Creek 150, the Kuskokwim 300, and the Akiak Dash. Those will be followed by a handful of other local races to close out the season.
This year, the Bogus Creek 150 is scheduled for Jan. 15 and the K300 is scheduled for the weekend of Jan. 28, along with the Akiak Dash. Normally, those races are all scheduled for the same weekend. But last year the race committee decided to split the Bogus Creek 150 and the K300 into two separate weekends, a move that was extremely successful with local mushing teams and fans.
Part of the excitement came from local teams’ doubled chance at winning prize money. Mushing isn’t cheap, and the money helps support the local mushing community. This year, though, the prize money will be reduced by 10% across the board, yet another financial disruption caused by the pandemic.
“Our charitable gaming operation was closed for about eight months since the start of the pandemic. While we've been open again since April, our recovery from that closure has been slower than we'd hoped,” said Basile.
Basile said that to try to recoup some of the funding, the race committee has opened up an online raffle and is seeking more sponsors.
The decrease in purse money hasn’t seemed to deter local mushers from signing up, and the number of teams for the K300 could actually increase from last year. Basile said that normally 20 or so teams run the K300, but last year that was down to 15. This year, 19 teams have already signed up for the K300, including a lineup of local mushers like last year’s winner Richie Diehl and last year’s second place finisher and former Iditarod champion Pete Kaiser. Other teams from the local lineup include Fr. Alexander Larson, Nate DeHaan, Isaac Underwood, Jessica Klejka, and rookies Raymond Alexie and Jason Pavila.
Although the race weekends will be split again this year and the purse is slightly lower, Basile said that he hopes the K300 race weekend will be a bigger affair this season than last time.
“We certainly hope that it's going to be more like a normal year. Some things will certainly be scaled back, but I think the goal is to have something more like normal. I think we'll basically have a normal volunteer crew,” said Basile.
Last year’s volunteer numbers were far fewer. The race committee had wanted to avoid congregate group settings as much as possible due to COVID-19. Basile said that the reason they can recruit more volunteers this year is because the race committee is requiring just about everyone involved in the race, from mushers to handlers to volunteers, to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Registration for the races is open, including registration for the Season Opener on Dec. 4. Registration for the Season Opener will close on Dec. 2 at 11:59 pm. Head to K300.org to learn more.