With COVID-19 ripping through the Bethel area, organizers Thursday announced they will postpone the 42nd annual Kuskokwim 300 sled dog race by a month.
The race is scheduled to start Feb. 12 instead of Jan. 15, a move prompted by lockdown recommendations in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.
If the situation doesn’t improve, it’s possible there will be another postponement or even an outright cancellation — something that has never happened in the long history of the annual mid-distance sled dog race.
The Kusko’s two companion races — the Bogus Creek 150 and the Akiak Dash — will also be rescheduled for Feb. 12.
“In 41 years, the K300 has never been canceled and the call to postpone for any reason other than weather is unprecedented,” race officials said in a press release. “This decision demonstrates how cautiously the Race Committee has approached planning an event during this incredibly challenging time.”
A field of 21 mushers is already signed up for the race. Prize money totaling $160,000 is at stake — the second biggest purse in mushing, second only to the Iditarod’s.
If the race is canceled, organizers say they will come up with a plan to assist kennels in the region that rely on prize money from the Kusko 300 and other Bethel races.
“A core aspect of the K300′s mission is to help sustain the tradition of dog mushing in Southwest Alaska,” the press release said. “As such, in a worst-case scenario ... the Race Committee is committed to assisting the mushers who rely on income from K300 races to support the operation of their kennels.”
There are no details yet of what that support would look like.
The Kusko 300 routinely draws mushing’s top teams, and its list of champions includes numerous Iditarod champions. Bethel’s own Pete Kaiser, the 2019 Iditarod champion, is the reigning Kusko champ and has won the race five times in the last six years.