UPDATE: Because of extreme cold expected Saturday morning, race organizers announced Friday they will move the Holiday Classic to Sunday, with an 11 a.m. start.
A new date for Bethel’s Bogus Creek 150 and new race trails for that race and the prestigious Kuskokwim 300 were announced Thursday by race organizers.
The Bogus Creek 150 won’t go to Bogus Creek at all, and the Kusko 300 will become a sort of Bogus Creek 150x2 -- changes that are part of an evolving COVID-19 safety plan.
The 150-mile Bogus Creek race, traditionally held the same weekend as the 300-mile race, will be held three weeks before the longer race and will put teams on a trail that won’t extend far from Bethel.
The 300-mile race, typically a run from Bethel to Aniak and back, will stay away from three villages that usually serve as checkpoints -- Tuluksak, Kalskag and Aniak -- and will instead make two round trips to Bogus Creek.
The changes were made to limit exposure to the COVID-19 virus, race manager Paul Basile said.
“It’s certainly a goal to avoid contact with those village communities,” he said.
The committee previously postponed the three races that make up the richest weekend in mid-distance mushing -- the Kusko 300 pays $160,000, the Bogus Creek 150 pays $60,000 and the Akiak Dash pays $30,000. Usually held in mid-January, the races last month were pushed back to Feb. 13 because of lockdowns in the area because of the pandemic.
The Kusko 300 and the 50-mile Akiak Dash will still start on Feb. 13, but the Bogus Creek 150 will begin Jan. 23.
“The Race Committee’s hope in changing the Bogus Creek 150 schedule is that it will draw wider participation from mushers in the Y-K Delta region and also that it will give race organizers experience managing a larger event with Covid-19 safety measures in place, in advance of the K300,” organizers said in a statement.
The Bogus Creek 150 is being limited to teams from the Y-K Delta as part of the race committee’s mitigation plan. The actual trail won’t be decided until later, Basile said, but it won’t include a checkpoint in Tuluksak as usual.
“We’re doing a route that keeps everything near Bethel,” he said.
The Kusko 300 has a field of 20 mushers from all across Alaska, but race organizers recently put a freeze on entries from outside the region. The race is limited to 30 teams.
Typically mushers stay with host families in Bethel, but mitigation plans won’t allow that this year so instead mushers will stay at a central site, and space is limited. “There’s a housing shortage,” Basile said.
Teams won’t go beyond Bogus Creek, Basile said, because ”the farther away from Bethel we go, the harder it is to stay away from those village communities, especially when it comes to dropped dogs.”
Bethel’s race season opened last weekend with a 50-mile race won by Jason Pavila of Kwethluk. Alexander Larson finished second and 2019 Iditarod champion Pete Kaiser placed third. Kaiser, who is from Bethel, won his fifth Kusko 300 title last year.
“Mushers adapted excellently to a set of new Covid safety rules and for that the Race Committee is grateful,” organizers said in a race recap. “Spectators too enjoyed the race responsibly, practicing proper social distancing and mainly watching from their vehicle or snow machine. It was an exciting and encouraging day for the Race Committee and we’re feeling very hopeful about the rest of the race season.”
Bethel’s next race is Saturday’s 50-mile Holiday Classic.