Mushers ready to kick off season’s biggest races

by Tommy Wells

Mushers – and sled dog racing fans – are getting ready.

Although the snow has just arrived in the Anchorage area, sled dog racers from throughout the state are preparing for the biggest three races remaining on the 2020 schedule, including the annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in March.

The first race to capture the state’s attention will happen far from the lights of Anchorage on Jan. 17 when the 41st Annual running of the Kuskokwim 300 gets underway in Bethel. Among those set to participate in the state’s premier mid-distance race is defending K300 champion Matthew Failor. The Willow musher edged out Iditarod champion Pete Kaiser for the top spot last year.

Another familiar face returning to the K300 will be Aaron Burmeister. A native of Nome, Burmeister has competed in more than 10 races in his career.

Registered mushers are Dennis Kananowicz, Wade Marrs, Nicolas Petit, Dave Turner, Josh McNeal, Pete Kaiser, Joar Leifseth Ulsom, Aaron Peck, Matthew Failor, Richie Diehl, Jeff King, Lance Mackey, Travis Beals, Tony Browning, Aaron Burmeister, Matt Hall, Sarah Stokey, Will Rhodes, Ramey Smyth, Jim Lanier, Joanna Jagow, and Dakota Schlosser. (We hope we didn’t leave anyone out.)

The K300 serves as a qualifying race for the state’s largest race, the Iditarod which is slated to get started on March 7 with a ceremonial start in Anchorage. Failor, Kaiser, Burmeister and sled dog racing legends Jeff King and Lance Mackey are among 58 mushers from across the globe already registered for the race.

The final major race of the 2020 season will again take place far away from the big city lights. The 2020 Kobuk 440 is scheduled to start on April 2 in Kotzebue.

Skagway’s Ryan Redington is the defending Kobuk 440 champion.