WILLOW — Noisy sled dogs barked a steam cloud into the cold air in Willow on Monday morning. Twenty-five teams started the Willow 300 Sled Dog Race in the parking lot of the Willow Community Center.
The race was originally planned for last week, but organizers rescheduled due to open water on the course. The change suited one Fairbanks-based musher just fine.
“It was like 40 degrees here,” said Riley Dyche. “We live in Fairbanks and we’ve been training a lot more at negative 40.”
The race, a qualifier for the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest 1,000-mile sled dog races, got underway shortly after sunrise with temps between 5 and 10 degrees below zero. In past years, the race has begun with a mass start, but this year organizers launched teams in intervals from the parking lot because of overflow on Willow Lake.
Ten of the 25 mushers are race rookies, though not all are inexperienced. The rookie field included four-time Iditarod champion Jeff King. Other Iditarod veterans racing in Willow this year include Anna Berington, Kristy Berington, Anja Radano, Karin Hendrickson and Hugh Neff. Nic Petit, a four-time winner of the Willow 300, is back to defend his 2021 win.
Dyche, who hopes to finish the Iditarod for the second time, said the Willow 300 will help him prepare.
“It’s just basically a good training run,” Dyche said. “Get that race acclimation in. Get the first-race-of-the-year jitters out of them and myself.”
The race will finish at the Sheep Creek Lodge. The race can be followed on their tracker.