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Early season races point toward exciting mushing season

 Pete Kaiser and Matt Failor celebrate after the 2020 edition of the Kuskokwim 300. KYUK photo.
Pete Kaiser and Matt Failor celebrate after the 2020 edition of the Kuskokwim 300. KYUK photo. (KTUU)
Published: Jan. 20, 2020 at 7:40 PM AKST
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With the Kuskokwim 300 wrapping up, the 2020 mushing season is hitting full swing. If early races are any indication, this year may very well be a great one for racers and fans alike.

The season began with a wobbly start: Two popular mushing races, the Tustumena 200 and

, which also features a shorter distance, were cancelled. Tustumena 200 Race Director Tami Murray said the race team was trying to "rebuild," and that its board decided to take a year off. At the same time, January's Knik 100 and 200 - the latter of which is a qualifier for Yukon Quest and the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race - was cancelled for the second year in a row, with officials citing concerns including warm weather and trail conditions.

However, recent races seem to have gone on without a hitch.

In mid-January, veteran

, earning him the three-peat and $7,000 of a $20,000 purse. Twenty-seven teams started the race, which was run in -44 degree Fahrenheit temperatures and in reverse from years past, beginning in Glennallen before going through Lake Louise, Sourdough, Meiers Lake and Chistochina. Ten teams, including three-time Iditarod champion Mitch Seavey, scratched.

The weekend after Copper Basin, the

- a route departing Bethel, heading through Aniak and back - wrapped up in Western Alaska, with defending Iditarod champion Pete Kaiser taking home his fifth title in six years. A handful of teams that trailed him were neck and neck as they barreled toward the finish line.

Ahead are even more legendary local races, including the

, both of which take place in early February. The lengthier race was

.

A couple of weeks later will be the

. Last year, just 12 minutes separated two champions: Kaiser, who would go on to win the 2019 edition of the race; and Joar Leifseth Ulsom, who would take second a year after taking home the 2018 title.

Among the other winners slated to return to the Last Great Race in March are Mitch Seavey and four-time champions Lance Mackey, Jeff King, and Martin Buser.

Last but not least, the

will be run from Kotzebue to Kobuk and back. Ryan Redington won the race on his rookie run of it last year.

For mushers, teams and their fans, a season that's been full of hills and valleys already will hopefully have more ups than downs to come.

Copyright 2020 KTUU. All rights reserved.

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