Unrelenting Ryne Olson, 28, tops her mushing mentor to win Copper Basin 300

"One repays a teacher badly if one always remains nothing but a pupil." 
― Friedrich Nietzsche, 1883

Young Ryne Olson turned the tables on a mushing mentor Monday when she powered past three-time champion Allen Moore to capture the Copper Basin 300.

Olson, 28, came from behind in the final 60-mile stretch from Tolsona Lake Resort checkpoint to the finish, securing her biggest victory in the sport to date — as well as $7,000 in prize money from a $20,000 purse. She crossed the finish line at 6:56 p.m.

"It was definitely a real thrill," Olson said in a post-race interview posted on the Copper Basin 300 Facebook page. "We were breaking snow trail and having a good time."

For the first time in a major distance mushing race, female mushers swept the podium finishes, with veterans Paige Drobny of Fairbanks finishing second, 65 minutes behind Olson, and Michelle Phillips of the Yukon Territory taking third.

Moore wound up fourth.

Olson's march up the Copper Basin standings has been both unrelenting and methodical — a shocking third for the rookie in 2015 behind Moore and veteran Iditarod musher Ray Redington, Jr.; then second last year behind fellow Two Rivers 20-something musher Matt Hall.

"This is pretty much the same team I had when we finished third and when we finished second last year," Olson said. "There's been a couple of substitutions, but for the most part it's the exact same team."

This year, on a snow-blown course that slowed the pace considerably, Olson left the penultimate checkpoint of Mendeltna at 9:11 a.m. Monday, 26 minutes behind Moore.

But her 11 dogs in harness were energized and frisky. They closed the gap and passed Moore in the home stretch, despite snow squalls that left the trail punchy in sections.

"There was still 50 miles left in the race, and a lot can happen in 50 miles," Olson said afterward. "My leaders didn't want to pass him, so he actually had to help my leaders past."

Olson came to Alaska from Durango, Colorado, in 2010 to work in the kennel of champion Two River mushers Moore and his wife Aliy Zirkle, a three-time runner-up in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Five years ago, Olson ran the couple's puppy team in the Iditarod, finishing 31st.

Soon, Olson was starting her own kennel, and things quickly jelled. Her third-place finish in the 2015 Copper Basin earned her rookie-of-the-year honors.

Every Copper Basin musher struggled with the sketchy conditions, with nine scratches among the 38 starters. Back-of-the-pack mushers had nearly 100 miles to go as the sun set Monday.

By comparison, last year's champion, Matt Hall, finished with a cumulative run time of just 27 hours, 11 minutes. Olson's elapsed time was more than 10 hours slower.


Mike Campbell

Mike Campbell was a longtime editor for Alaska Dispatch News, and before that, the Anchorage Daily News.