The 2008 Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race course covers a 100-mile route through the Caribou Hills.
Map courtesy of the Seismic Sour
They say it takes two things to draw mushers to a race: a sweet purse and good trails, and the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race has made a habit of annually having both.
This year is no exception as the T-200 will again be offering a guaranteed minimum purse of $25,000, and trail groomers have been spending long hours marking trail and making sure it is groomed-in to the best of their ability.
"It'll be a little bit different than year's past, but we're really happy with it," said Todd Stone, president of the T-200 race association.
These changes largely stem from the lingering effects of last year's 55,000-acre wildfire that dramatically altered the landscape of the Caribou Hills and much of the T-200 race course. Most landmarks are gone, said groomer Kevin Fulton.
"It's a lot harder to tell where you're at. I went through Four Corners a few weeks ago and didn't even know it, and I've been going up there since I built a cabin in the 70s," he said.
Also, with many fewer trees, less brush standing, and no needles or branches on the charred black trunks that remain behind, there is nothing to block even modest wind gusts from moving snow around. Fulton said this has been the case in the high country where several feet of fluffy snow had already fallen this season and several more inches have been added to it in the last few days.
"Right around the (Tustumena Lodge) is the slickest part, but about 10 miles out it starts getting better and better, and it's still powder up high. We've been working on it all week and there are still sections where when it drifts and you can't see where the trail is, and if you step off the trail and it's waist deep," Fulton said.
Fulton said grooming efforts were continuing, and he expected the roughly 70 percent of trail groomed-in by the Caribou Hills Cabin Hoppers' Pisten Bully to be quite set-up in time for the race.
"And I'll be out doing what trail they can't, or aren't allowed, to use their machines on," he said on Thursday.
Even if the wind kicks up or a weekend storm blows in, Fulton said he was confident there are still plenty of markers to let mushers know where the trail runs, even if they can't see the packed trail itself.
"We got everything marked as of Wednesday and there are at least 3,000 markers out there," he said.
That's a significant number of markers for what equates to 100 miles of trail, he said. By comparison, organizers of the Knik 200 Sled Dog Race which also features an out-and-back course typically only utilize around 500 markers.
Photo by Joseph Robertia Robert Bundtzen of Anchorage and Jeff King of Denali Park, analyze a map of the T-200 course before the start of last year's race.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
The well-marked trail will help not just rookies, but all mushers know they are on the correct course, since even T-200 race veterans will be traveling on new terrain.
"There are a lot of changes. I'd say there's 40 miles of trail we haven't been on before," Fulton said, and he was quick to add that nothing has been made easier by way of the reroutes.
"There will be more hills, and it's every bit 100 miles long this year, not 92 or 93 miles like it's been some years. It'll give mushers a workout," he said.
Fulton said the only problems he is worried about are moose, which have taken to using the groomed in trails to travel, rather than walking through the soft, deep powder.
"We're doing our best to fix the foot holes they leave behind. The powerline areas around the start/finish and around the Clam Shell have been the worst. Hopefully they'll stay out of dog teams, but we can't keep them off the trails," he said.
For more information on the Tustumena 200, visit the race's Web site at www.tustumena200.com. This year's T-200 is scheduled to start on Saturday at 11 a.m. in front of the Tustumena Lodge in Kasilof.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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