KENAI - Competitors and fans alike couldn't have asked for a better day for the 25th running of the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race - a race which almost didn't happened due to warm temperatures and no snow just a few weeks back.
However, in the past few days, the mercury dropped to the single digits, which is quite comfortable by mushing standards and considerably warmer than the minus 40 degree temperatures that have greeted mushers at many other races so far this season. Also, just days before the race, more than 8 inches of snow fell, making a soft, powdery blanket to slow down sled speeds and cushion the footfalls of the true athletes of the event - the dogs themselves.
"It's slower than it was a week ago, which is a good thing," said race marshal Kevin Fulton, and the primary person responsible for putting in the race trail.
Cim Smyth held on to the lead to beat the 2008 defending T-200 champion, Lance Mackey, by two minutes. John Little took third in Saturday's race.
In the T-100 race, Dean Osmar's team came in first, Bruce Linton took second and Cain Carter came in third.
This year's course had been altered to contend with the marginal snow conditions leading up to the start. As a result, racers started and will finish at the Clam Shell Lodge in Clam Gulch.
Fulton said out-and-back courses where mushers will encounter each other head-on can sometimes be challenging, but this scenario was discussed with all competitors in the pre-race meeting.
"It's a little tough with teams going both ways, but we told them that the guy coming downhill has the right of way," he said.
This decision was made because while there was an ample of amount of new snow, it has not had time to set up and bond in critical areas, such as on some of the steep downhills of the course.
Fulton said these tricky areas are few though, when weighed against the overall mileage of the trail.
"There's some bad stuff -ice and glaciation - around the last seven miles before they hit Caribou Lake, but it shouldn't be anything anyone can't handle with 12 dogs," he said, referring to the maximum number allowed this year, down from the usual 14.