18-year-old Raymond Alexie of Kwethluk wins the Holiday Classic dog sled race
No dog team was spared during this weekend’s Holiday Classic sled dog race. An unforecasted blizzard struck mid-race and threatened mushers. The blizzard came on hard and strong, but that didn’t stop 18-year-old Raymond Alexie of Kwethluk from nabbing a landslide victory.
Raymond Alexie had just passed the bluffs outside of Bethel when the blizzard hit. Compared to other mushers, he got pretty lucky. He only had to spend a small fraction of his race in the snowstorm.
By the time the wind picked up and the snow started swirling, Alexie had already completed about 45 miles of the 50-mile race. For those last five miles, his dogs slowed from about a 15 mile-per-hour pace to a four mile-per-hour pace. He finished in four hours and 18 minutes.
Pete Kaiser, the 2019 Iditarod champion and third place finisher in the 2021 Holiday Classic, said that the further back you were in the pack, the longer you had to spend running in the blizzard. But he said that it didn’t affect his place, and that Alexie would have smoked him anyway.
“I was able to see how far ahead he was when we passed each other head on at the turn around, and his team looked really nice. I don't think there was any scenario that anybody was gonna beat him. He was having a pretty good race,” said Kaiser.
While the mushers were duking it out in the low-visibility, high-wind conditions on the trail, back at the finish line, race manager Paul Basile was worried. The weather forecast had predicted snow, but no blizzard.
After the first five veteran mushers came in and all reported bad conditions, Basile made the call to allow handlers and onlookers to assist mushers. Usually, offering assistance via snowmachine or any other way is against race rules. But the conditions were harrowing, and Basile wanted everyone to finish safely.
“Was just standing there in the elements and just getting a great sense of relief every time another musher came through. Every time we saw a headlamp coming,” said Basile.
No musher scratched, and only two of the 17 mushers did not win prize money.
Other notable finishers included Jackie Larson of Napaskiak, who came in second, and 18-year-old Jason Pavila of Kwethluk, who finished fourth, just after Kaiser. Matt Scott of Bethel came in fifth, and had also come in fifth during the Season Opener race earlier in the month. Twyla Elhardt of Bethel placed seventh. That’s notably higher than the Season Opener, where she finished last. The nurse and musher sacrificed her race to assist a woman who had crashed her snowmachine.
The Holiday Classic was the last race of the year. The next local race is the Bogus Creek 150 Sled Dog Race, scheduled for Jan. 15, 2022.