Monica Zappa, in her telltale neon garb, takes off with her team from the starting line of the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race on Jan. 27, 2018 at Freddie’s Roadhouse in Ninilchik. (Homer News file photo)

Monica Zappa, in her telltale neon garb, takes off with her team from the starting line of the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race on Jan. 27, 2018 at Freddie’s Roadhouse in Ninilchik. (Homer News file photo)

Tustumena 200 ready to ramp up

In less than three weeks, a raucous group of race dogs will pull into the finishing area at Freddie’s Roadhouse near Ninilchik, musher in tow, as champions of the Tustumena 200 sled dog race.

The race is a qualifier for the prestigious Iditarod sled dog race, but before teams can start dreaming about the burled arch in Nome, they have some preparations to make.

The Tustumena 200 is looking good to go three weeks out after enough snow has blanketed the Caribou Hills area to put on such an event, according to race director Tami Murray. Even though a few days of warm, wet weather plagued the peninsula over the New Year’s holiday, the recent cold snap arrived just in time to save a wilting snow pack before plans had to be changed.

Murray is giving the trails high marks with three weeks to go.

“They’re coming along very well,” she said. “Our groomers are out right now checking the trails from Kasilof to Homer.”

Murray was pleased to announce that for the first time in three years, the race course will include a northern swing up to Kasilof, giving the event a third checkpoint that had been missing for the previous two runnings. Murray said she hopes it will add a bit of variety and intrigue for racers and their furry companions.

“Dogs just don’t like that,” Murray said. “They get bored.”

In its 32nd year of running, the Tustumena 200 stands as the top mushing event each winter on the peninsula. The beginnings of the race supposedly started with a beer run by a few locals trying to find a place to party, according to the race’s website.

The more official version explains that peninsula musher and 1984 Iditarod champion Dean Osmar founded the event as a way for mushers on the Kenai Peninsula to log the required miles needed to qualify for the Iditarod. Murray said the race is held on a combination of private and state land that is owned by Alaska Native groups.

The 2019 race starts Jan. 26 at noon with an interval start of two minutes between teams. The course runs from Freddie’s Roadhouse down to McNeil Canyon Elementary school in Homer, then back north to a isolated checkpoint near Kasilof, which Murray said will help mushers trying to qualify for the Iditarod.

“We’ll have a handful of people trying to qualify for the race,” she said. “The Kasilof checkpoint will give them the opportunity to experience that.”

From there, teams move down the Clam Gulch trail and will end up near Tustumena Lake road, before finding their way back to Freddie’s Roadhouse. Murray said the race has traditionally started in Kasilof but after years of dealing with low snow conditions — including three straight cancellations from 2014 to 2016 — Freddie’s has essentially become the new start and finish.

“The reason is we have a good base set, and it’s going to be fast,” Murray said. “It’s icy right now but a few inches of snow would make for premium conditions.”

Also creating premium conditions are the Caribou Hills Cabin Hoppers, a nonprofit volunteer group that utilizes heavyweight machinery to groom trails that snake their way across the landscape. Murray said the Cabin Hoppers have helped tremendously in keeping the race going.

A pair of volunteer meetings are scheduled for the week before the race, with the first one convening Jan. 17 at 6 p.m. at the Kenai River Center, and the second meeting Jan. 19 at 3 p.m. at Captain’s Coffee in Homer. Murray said the two meetings will fill volunteers in on important information, such as dog handling during the race, veterinarian checks and musher hosting. Murray said families interesting in hosting a race team should visit the event’s Facebook page with the understanding that no personal pets should be introduced to the racing dogs.

“It’s stressful to have other dogs running loose for the teams,” she said. “They just need a place for the musher and handler to sleep, there’s no requirement for feeding but they love to sit and talk with their hosts.”

The race is run over two days and requires 10 hours of rest.

Murray said some of the top names returning to try their hand at winning includes defending champion Nic Petit, Wade Marrs, Lance Mackey, Seward racer Travis Beals, six-time champ Tim Osmar and two-time champ Paul Gebhardt.

The event also includes a 100-mile race. Murray said the race committee adopted a rule in October for this year that they took from the Iditarod, which states that a dog death automatically disqualifies a team from the race, unless due to unforeseen or unavoidable circumstances.

The weekend ends Monday afternoon with a celebratory banquet at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.

More in News

Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion
Alexis Alamillo, of Anchorage, carries a sockeye salmon caught in a dipnet from the mouth of the Kenai River on Wednesday.
Kenai River dipnetting now open 24 hours a day

The liberalization of fishing regulation was effective starting Thursday evening

A drone rises into the air while kicking up dust, departing on a test flight for the use of beyond visual line of sight drone aircraft, at Furie Operating Alaska’s central processing facility in Nikiski, Alaska, on Wednesday, July 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Drone test flight operates beyond visual line of sight between Nikiski and a Cook Inlet platform

The drone could perform deliveries to and from Cook Inlet platforms

A map of Lower Skilak Campground shows the areas that will be closed in July and August 2024. (Graphic provided by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Areas of Lower Skilak Campground to close for repair starting Monday

The East Loop will be closed — projected to be reopened at noon on Aug. 4

Kenai Courthouse is photographed on Feb. 26, 2019, in Kenai, Alaska. (Clarion file)
Sterling resident sentenced to 30 years in prison for sexual abuse of minors

Additionally, Crane will face 15 years of supervised probation as well as sex offender registration and treatment

Shrubs grow outside of the Kenai Courthouse on Monday, July 3, 2023 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Former Soldotna police officer acquitted of 2023 assault allegations

He was found not guilty following a five-day trial in late June

A parade of cars and trucks flying flags in support of former President Donald Trump proceed down the Kenai Spur Highway in Kenai, Alaska, on Sunday, July 14, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Residents caravan across central peninsula in support of Trump

The parade came a day after an attempted assassination of the former president

Drummers perform during a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Dena’ina Wellness Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, July 12, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenaitze tribe celebrates 10 years of ‘far-fetched dream’ at wellness center

Community members recognized the work done at the Dena’ina Wellness Center over the past decade

The Kenai Safeway is seen on Wednesday, July 20, 2022. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai and Soldotna Safeways may be sold under proposed Kroger-Albertsons merger

The local stores will be sold to CS Wholesale Grocers only if the merger overcomes suit from the FTC

Sockeye salmon caught in a set gillnet are dragged up onto the beach at a test site for selective harvest setnet gear in Kenai, Alaska, on Tuesday, July 25, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Draft plan published for disbursement of $11.5 million in 2021 and 2022 ESSN disasters

Public comment will be accepted for the draft spend plan until July 24

Most Read