Kuskokwim 300 draws roster of returning champions, rookies

A family in coats with fur ruffs poses with sled dogs
Bethel musher Pete Kaiser and his family celebrate after winning his sixth Kuskokwim 300 on Sunday, Jan. 30, 2022. (Katie Basile)

Three past champions will race in the 44th running of the Kuskokwim 300 Sled Dog Race starting Friday night. The race runs from Bethel up the frozen Kuskokwim River to Aniak and back, bringing together 21 top mushers from the Kuskokwim and from across Alaska.

The race’s 2022 winner, Pete Kaiser of Bethel, is back to seek his seventh win. Only Jeff King has more titles than Kaiser, with nine victories. Richie Diehl and Matthew Failor, race victors in 2021 and 2019 respectively, join a competitive field that includes the defending Iditarod champion Brent Sass. 

Bethel musher Twyla Elhardt is racing in her first 300-mile race and is the only rookie competing. Three others are in Bethel for their first K300 — Josh McNeal, Jeffery Deeter, and Jacob Witkop — but because they have finished a 300-mile race before they won’t be in the running for the Rookie of the Year prize.

Teams can expect a warm race with snow, rain, and temperatures reaching the mid-30s. And in the days leading up to the race, Diehl has been tracking the weather.

“During Kusko week, you’re following the forecast, following the forecast. It’s always something with the forecast, you know, and if you let it get to you, it gets kind of stressful, and I definitely let it get to me sometimes,” Diehl said. “So it’s like, just get out there because once you’re out on the trail, it doesn’t seem as bad as what you put in your head.”

Mushers take only six hours of discretionary rest, split up in the Kalskag and Aniak checkpoints as they choose. On the return trail, all mushers rest their teams for four hours in Tuluksak before the final 50 miles into Bethel. 

They will compete for one of the richest purses in all of sled dog racing. The winner earns a prize of $25,000. The race starts at 6:30 p.m. Friday in Bethel.

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