T200 ready to go with bigger purse, more mushers

Forecasters this winter have been calling out a wide range of weather patterns — snow, rain, freeze.
But organizers of the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race hope to only hear three sounds next weekend — mush, mush, mush.

Despite a winter of strange snowfall and even weirder temperatures, Tami Murray, T200 president and race director, said the Kasilof-to-Homer-and-back trail is in good shape for mushers when the race kicks off Feb. 2. Workers have been busy packing the trail down to help keep it from melting. But nonetheless mushers have been inquiring about the status of the area’s snow, Murray said.

“We still have a few (mushing) spots open so they are wondering how the trail looks and if it is worth their time,” Murray said. “It is definitely worth their time because we have some good trails up there. It could change overnight, but right now it is still in good shape. Our guys who are doing the trail have done it for years.”

The race is set to begin at 11 a.m. Feb. 2 at its starting point at Mile 112 of the Sterling Highway in Kasilof. The T100 will start about 1:30 p.m. from the same location. A veterinarian check and meet-the-mushers event will be from noon to 5 p.m. on Feb. 1 at the Soldotna Sports Center.

“It is just really exciting,” Murray said. “There will be 700 sled dogs there and they’re all super excited to run this course. Anytime you hook a dog up they are excited. It is just the adrenaline you feel on race day and it is really a good time to get up and personal with some of these mushers.”

Murray said 37 competitors have signed up for the T200, which is capped at 40. Eight mushers have signed up for the T100, which is capped at 15. Numerous mushers competing in the T200 either have competed in, or will be racing in this year’s Iditarod, Murray said.

The T200 will offer a $25,000 purse split among the top 10 finishers with the winner getting $7,000. The T100 purse will be $1,500 split amongst top five finishers. Prizes also will be handed out in both races for humanitarian, voted on by the veterinarians, and sportsmanship, voted on by mushers.

Last year’s T200 purse dipped down to $10,000, but Murray said the race was able to recover through several fundraising events and a fishing tournament hosted by Apache and other companies.

“We were afraid we were going to lose the race last year, but we scaled back a little bit and were able to make it happen and with our sponsors stepping up this year we feel really good not just about this year, but the future as well,” she said.

There will be two meetings for T200 volunteers:

• Kasilof — Friday at Tustumena Elementary at 6 p.m.

• Homer — Sunday, at Captain’s Coffee on Pioneer Avenue at 3 p.m.

Murray encouraged people to come watch the race, which is visible from many locations and checkpoints, like Freddie’s Roadhouse on Oilwell Road in Ninilchik and McNeil Canyon Elementary School on East End Road in Homer.

“A good spot to watch it is the start and then you can go out on the trail to Freddie’s (Roadhouse) and then you can go to Homer,” she said. “You can get to all our checkpoints by the road system. It is fun to watch them come into checkpoints and see what they do and take off from there too.”

Find Tustumena 200 information online at www.tustumena200.com.

Brian Smith is the city editor for the Peninsula Clarion.