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Cold won’t stop Copper Basin 300, but there’s not enough snow in Anchorage for sprint racing

  • Author: Beth Bragg
  • Updated: January 10
  • Published January 9

Sprint mushing races in Anchorage are on hold because there’s not enough snow, but this weekend’s Copper Basin 300 will go on as scheduled despite brutal cold.

It was minus-33 degrees in Glennallen on Thursday afternoon and expected to get colder overnight.

“We were down to 40 below last night, and they’re calling for 43 below in the morning,” race manager Jason Severs said.

Those kind of temperatures — expected for the duration of the three-day, 300-mile race — could mean a hard, fast trail.

Thirty-six teams are scheduled to leave downtown Glennallen in two-minute intervals beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday, a field that includes two-time defending champion Nic Petit of Girdwood.

The race should end Monday. Last year’s race, held on a trail made hard and fast by cold, had a morning finish; the previous year’s race, held on trails made slow by heavy snowfall, finished in the evening.

Severs said 10 mushers who signed up for the race have dropped out, probably because they lacked adequate training.

Those remaining include a number of top dog drivers, among them Petit, three-time Iditarod winner Mitch Seavey, perennial Iditarod contender Aliy Zirkle and last year’s Copper Basin runner-up, Brent Sass.

The race is on the same trail as usual, but it’s running in reverse direction this year — 75 miles to Lake Louise, 55 miles to Sourdough, 40 miles to Meiers Lake, 68 miles to Chistochina and the final 50 miles back to Glennallen.

“We do have a lot more snow in the mountains near Meiers Lake and between there and Chistochina — more than we’re used to the last couple years. It made it interesting,” Severs said.

But the trail is all in, he said — aided by the purchase of two new Ski-Doo Expedition snowmachines. The race was able to buy the machines thanks to a donation from the estate of Joel Switzer, a Copper Basin veteran and volunteer from Fairbanks who died in 2017.

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Volunteers and sponsors are crucial to the running of the Copper Basin, Severs said, and the new snowmachines have been particularly useful given the amount of snow in the mountains.

“They’ve been very beneficial this year,” he said. “We’re trying not to fight over them.”

In 1996, the Copper Basin was called off mid-race because of the cold. Temperatures dipped to minus-60 and below, and although the dogs could still run, dog trucks could not. The race was called off Sunday, halfway into things, in part because of the effect on dog trucks but mostly out of concern for the dogs, race marshal Jon Van Zyle said at the time.

While Anchorage has experienced double-digit below-zero temperatures this week, cold isn’t the problem for sprint races at Tozier Track. Inadequate snow is, according to trail groomer John Rasmussen of the Alaskan Sled Dog & Racing Association (ASDRA).

“There’s still not enough snow to do anything over there,” he said Thursday. “The snow packed down to nothing.”

On top of that, the cold snap has caused overflow on Campbell Creek, creating open water on parts of the trail system, he said.

The conditions have prompted the postponement of two major races so far — the Tudor Road Bingo Race scheduled for earlier this month and this weekend’s Orville & Doris Lake Memorial Race.

“We’re on hold for another week,” Rasmussen said.