The Kenai Peninsula will be well represented in the upcoming Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.
Along with Kasilof's Tim Osmar (See related story, this page), Jack Berry, of Homer, and Sig Stormo, of Funny River, will line up as part of the 34-team field in the 2001 edition of the grueling 1,000-mile race from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, to Fairbanks.
Osmar hasn't run the race since 1986, and Stormo is a 39-year-old rookie. But Berry is a seasoned Quest veteran. Running in his third Quest last year, the 43-year-old led the pack to the halfway point in Dawson City before going on to a fifth-place finish.
"I should have won last year," Berry said Wednesday, adding that he may have found a competitive advantage for this year's race. "I just got a new sled and ran it for the first time today. It's the nicest sled I've ever had. That's what held me back last year."
Out of the 22 dogs Berry is training, he will choose 14 for the Quest.
"I've got 10 that will be my main core from last year's team," the Homer musher said. "There's quite a bit of depth to choose from."
While the rest of the peninsula has experienced little snow this season, that hasn't been a problem for Berry. His East End Road home sits at 1,550-feet elevation and often gets snow when lower elevations are experiencing rain. And besides that, "I've got all the Caribou Hills out behind my house."
Berry hopes to parlay the veteran dog team, new sled and good training into his first Quest win. Standing in his way is one of the most competitive race fields ever, according to Race Manager Leo Olesen, including three Quest champions -- record holder Frank Turner of Whitehorse, inaugural Quest winner Sonny Lindner of Fairbanks and two-time champion John Schandelmeier of Paxson.
"I think we're going to have a very competitive front end this year," Olesen said.
The Quest's purse is $125,000 this year, which will be split among the top 15 finishers. The winner takes home a $30,000 paycheck.
Ten rookies and 23 veterans are in the field. Rookie Sylvia Furtwaengler of Germany is the lone European entry. Jim Oehlschlaeger of Cincinnati and Bill Pinkham of Glenwood Springs, Colo., are the only mushers entered from the Lower 48.
The rest of the field is made up of five mushers from the Yukon Territory and 25 Alaskans.
It's expected that the leaders will take about 11 days to run the Quest from Whitehorse to the finish line on the frozen Chena River in downtown Fairbanks, although weather conditions may become a factor in the pace of the race.
As of Wednesday, Olesen reported that the Yukon River was "one ice jam from Yukon to Dawson."
"They're going to try to put a trail in next week," he said.
And if they can't?
"We're exploring several options," Olesen said. "Worst case scenario is that we won't run on the Yukon River. But we don't want to think about that yet. If we get some snow on the Yukon to fill in between chunks of ice, it'll be possible.
"We just have to keep our fingers crossed."
The race begins Feb. 11.
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