Local History: The 1995 Copper Basin 300 Sled Dog Race -- So Close, Yet So Very Far Away

Twenty Years Ago In The Copper River Valley...

Alaska dog mushers (including Charlie Boulding) at a CB300 lodge in the Copper Valley.
The "Roadhouse Race" -- Mushers Assembled In The Brown Bear Roadhouse During An Early Race. Photos are not necessarily from 1995.  (c) 1986-2014 Copper River Country Journal

Local Musher Fred E. Heinz at Waters Edge.
A Young Martin Buser Checks In.
The Copper Basin 300 that was held in 1995 was just another typical and exciting dog race. It was sponsored primarily by Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, which helped with the logistics. It was developed at a lodge in Lake Louise, as a "roadhouse race," hopping cross-country from one roadhouse to another, reminiscent of the old trails that traveled the same region in the early 20th century. The entire community got involved in this event, as it was so unusual back then to be able to get out and about in the dark of midwinter. The race gave everyone an excuse to socialize, drive around, and have actual, meaningful "work" that allowed them to use the brand new technology of the newer snow machines that had just been brought out on the market. As you look at this series of pages, you'll see familiar businesses, and some businesses that are no longer in existence in the Copper Valley. Several businesses have changed their names since then.

A Copper Basin 300 Musher Checks In With A Volunteer At Gakona Lodge Checkpoint. 
The 1995 race, held 20 years ago, was a "Roadhouse Race" with a purse of $35,000.  By the time the 1995 race was held, Summit Lake Lodge, a checkpoint at the northern end of the Richardson Highway, had already burned down -- in 1993, on November 3rd, at 3 am. Sourdough Lodge, a totally authentic and historic checkpoint that actually dated back into the Gold Rush, had burned down the year before, in 1992. This left only 6 of the original Copper Basin 300 participating lodges left, of the 8 lodges on the original trail. Chistochina Lodge, another historic roadhouse, was still there in 1995. But it, too, burned to the ground -- in November, 1999, taking another major checkpoint off the list of Copper Basin 300 stops. 

The 1995 race began at Meiers Lake. At that time, the race moved its starting point every year, and also sometimes alternated directions of the race, "changing it up"  -- so nobody could "practice" winning strategies.  
Since the Copper Basin 300 passed through so many small communities, and the trail went over so many people's driveways, "spectator etiquette" was a big deal. Many families along the route had children and dogs, and the race brought out large crowds of both incoming visitors and locals...
Volunteers came from all over Alaska, and from the local region, to work on the 1995 race. There were checkers, judges, a race marshal, an honorary race marshal (from Alyeska Pipeline -- the race's primary sponsor), local and state veterinarians, fund raisers, contact people, road crossing monitors,  EMS volunteers and people to help handle dogs, pick up banners, and do work at the individual lodges, checkers, timers, chute guards, shuttle bus operators, stake pickup personnel, Glennallen crossing guards, and the 1995 race manager, Bob Sunder of Copper Center. 

There's concern this year -- for the 2015 race -- that there will be open water out on the trail. That was an expectation 20 years ago, too. 

The run between Gakona Lodge and Brown Bear Roadhouse was one of the most visible to the driving public, because the trail ran alongside both the Glenn and Richardson Highways, and through Glennallen. "Dog care" was a major theme of the entire race. The Copper Basin 300 had some of the most stringent dog care rules in the entire state, and did much to lead Alaska's dog mushing into a "kinder, gentler" sport. The mushers who came to the CB300 were the leaders in dog care in Alaska, and were vocal about promoting the race for this reason.
Festivities surrounding the 1995 Copper Basin 300 took over three days, and involved a broad range of communities, all over the Copper River Valley. The original roadhouses involved: Meiers Lake, Sourdough Roadhouse, Lake Louise Lodge, Tolsona Lake Resort, Brown Bear Roadhouse, Gakona Lodge, Chistochina Roadhouse, and Summit Lake Lodge, all had their individual responsibilities. Community members who lived near the various roadhouses worked with overall volunteer and logistics coordinators to plan and implement the race. And, each roadhouse benefited from the unexpected midwinter level of activity and commerce that went with the race. As the roadhouses burned down, one by one, checkpoints changed. By 1995 (see below) there had already been several changes. Although there was no Sourdough Lodge, there was still a Sourdough Checkpoint. 

KCAM Radio was instrumental in keeping people up to date on what was happening during the race. You could also call some -- but not all -- of the checkpoint lodges. If you look at page 5 of this series, you'll see that there was some brand new technology in use during the CB300 20 winters ago -- the cellular phone. These were nothing like modern cell phones. They were what were called "bag phones" -- large, cumbersome phones. In bags. Five race officials got to use them for the 1995 race. 

(c) 1986-2014 Copper River Country Journal

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