The 2024 Kuskokwim 300 is expected to be cold, but it certainly won’t be the coldest

Ron Kaiser and Nate DeHann on the Gweek River during the Bogus Creek 150 on Jan.14, 2023. (Katie Basile/KYUK)

Cold is expected; it’s what Alaskans prepare for in January. But out on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, where the wind howls off the Bering Sea and cold sinks deep into the bottoms of the river valleys, there are times when that cold is extreme.

“It was 45 below at Tuluksak, around 50 below, 48, 50 below Kalskag with a big wind, and 56 below when we reached Aniak,” Myron Angstman remembers of the 1989 running of the Kuskokwim 300 Sled Dog Race.

“It was a really difficult race, that’s all I can say,” Angstman said.

Angstman is the board chairman of the Kuskokwim 300 Race Committee. He said that 1989 was the coldest in race history, but temperatures haven’t dipped as low in recent years.

So when the forecast came out for the week, it may have scared off even some of the most seasoned mushers, including nine-time champion Jeff King. Brent Sass, no stranger to the deeply cold temperatures that plague his Interior region training grounds this time of year, chose to forego the trip to Bethel. Long-time career musher Aaron Burmeister, who trains teams in the frigid Interior but is also no stranger to the coastal winds where he also trains dogs in Nome, also decided not to attend.

Angstman said that a frigid forecast this year is unlikely to faze the sled dogs.

“They perform at a higher rate of speed normally in cold weather,” he said.

But according to Angstman, it’s really the mushers who are always the weakest link on a dog team.

“If it does get really chilly, at least the spectator appeal will be high because they’ll want to see how everybody is reacting to the cold,” he said.

Eric Hoffman finished the notoriously frosty 1989 Kuskokwim 300 race as Rookie of the Year.

“Boy, it was something else. I was amazed I finished,” he recalled.

It was his first and only K300. He was in his twenties, looking for a challenge, so he set off from Bethel alongside 20 other teams. Only half of them would make it to the finish line. “I traveled that race by myself, the whole way with nobody,” said Hoffman.

Roughly 75 miles into the race, Hoffman parked his team next to a wall tent on the trail.

“I got in there and warmed up, and they had some bone soup going, so I had some soup, warmed up, and I looked up on the top of the tent and there was a half gallon of rum and it was frozen. And I said, ‘wait a minute, this stuff isn’t supposed to freeze,’” said Hoffman. “I left out of Big Bogus (Creek) and jumped on the river, and I bet it was gusting 30, 35 (miles per hour).”

Hoffman said that the wind stirred up a ground blizzard. This year, fierce wind chills and subzero temperatures are forecast for this year’s race, but nothing like 1989.

“We were really overdue for some cold here,” said seven-time K300 champion Pete Kaiser.

Kaiser grew up alongside the Kuskokwim 300. He said that it’s his hometown race. He’s faced cold on many of the 15 K300s he’s finished.

“Yeah, it was either gonna be 40 above or 40 below. That’s kind of how (the K300) works,” Kaiser laughed. “So maybe next year, if it’s too cold this year, we’ll be ready for a 40 above one next year.”

If that happens, he might have to train his dogs to swim.

This year’s Kuskokwim 300 starts at 8 p.m. Friday. You can follow the race through an online leaderboard posted at where you’ll also find an FAQ about 2024’s mushers and route.

Previous article‘Inequitable and inefficient’: New report criticizes feds’ climate change response system
Next articleAnchorage officials say residential and commercial building owners should consider shoveling roofs