More money, more mushers
Of all the grueling mid-distance sled-dog races in the state, the Kuskokwim 300 is one of the most feared by rookie mushers and one of the most revered by veterans.
The race, which began in 1980, offers unpredictable weather, difficult trails and, most years, lots of open water. Its nickname is "Kusko-swim 300" because of the often deep overflow on the rivers.
Aside from the challenging route and thrill of competition, the 300-mile, 14-dog event, which runs from Bethel to Aniak and back, has something new to offer this season: more money.
The total purse has been increased by 10 percent, said race manager Zach Fansler, who is entering his second season as the race's manager.
"We are really lucky as a race because we have a lot of great support from sponsors and volunteers," Fansler said. "Any time you increase the purse, you get people's attention."
Fansler added that the K300 is hoping to draw more mushers from every corner of the state with the increase.
The money didn't come from one corporation or an anonymous donor, it came from the community, Fansler said.
The K300 organizers fund raise throughout the year and rely on local residents and businesses to help keep logistical costs to a minimum.
"The money came through the giving of the community in general," Fansler said.
The 10 percent increase will be distributed evenly throughout the top 20 finishers in the K300 and will see the total winnings go from $100,000 to $110,000. That means $22,000 for first place in the 2013 race, which begins Friday, January 18. But the nonprofit race organization is responsible for several other races — they too will see more dough for finishers. The Bogus Creek 150, which also begins on January 18, and the Akiak Dash, which starts on January 19, will see the same swell in prize money, as will the K300 Holiday Race in December and the Campout Classic in March.
The first of those races — the Holiday Race — is a good way for locals to start the season and get into the competitive spirit, said Fansler. And even though the K300 gets the most attention statewide from dog drivers; the other, smaller, events are no less competitive, Fansler assured. The total purse for the Bogus Creek 150 in 2013 is $22,000. That race offers a chance for mushers to test their teams that aren't ready for a 300-mile affair. The Akiak Dash, which has a roster of mostly local racers, is a shorter two-day event and has a purse of $11,000.
For now, it's impossible to predict what trail conditions will look like by race time for any of the events, Fansler said, but competitors can expect a challenge, as always.
"It's very icy right now, but that doesn't mean anything for the future," Fansler said. "This race is not for the timid. Mushers know that this is a challenging race and people know that it's an accomplishment just to finish."
As of Tuesday, 12 mushers had officially signed up including last year's champ Rohn Buser. Buser beat a tough field in 2012 including his dad Martin, a past K300 and four-time Iditarod champ; and Ramey Smyth, who still holds the record for the youngest musher to win the K300 and has competed in the race eight times. Rohn, 22 at the time of his win, was the second youngest to claim top spot with a time of 41 hours, 12 minutes and two seconds.
Martin and Smyth have signed up for 2013 race, as has 2011 K300 champ Paul Gebhardt. Past Yukon Quest champion Aliy Zirkle and three-time Copper Basin 300 winner Allen Moore have also signed on, along with 2012 Kobuk 440 winner Ken Anderson. Tony Browning has entered his ninth K300 and will race dogs from Aaron Burmeister's Flat Dog Kennels. Kristy Berington will be racing in her first ever K300 and is a veteran of numerous races including the Iditarod and Yukon Quest. Mike Williams Jr. and Mike Williams Sr. will join Rohn and Martin as a father-son duo. This is will make 22 K300s for the senior Williams and seven races for his son.
It's a tough field of all-stars so far, with at least a dozen more mushers expected to enter.
"Essentially, we're really excited," said Fansler. "We've got a field that's already really strong and interest from local mushers. It's going to be a really great race and there are a lot of great things on the horizon."
Historically, the K300 has seen between 20 and 30 competitors and Fansler is hoping for the same amount, if not more. There is no maximum number of entrants, he said, adding that the cost of flying a dog team to the western Alaska town is a deterrent for some.
For more information visit K300@alaska.com or call Fansler at 545-3300