The U.P. 200 unofficially kicked off Thursday night with the annual mushers banquet, and the chute line-up is all set.

Mushers were given their bib numbers for the U.P. 200, Midnight Run, and Jack Pine 30 after enjoying dinner with fellow mushers.

Mushers see the banquet as a way to catch up with their competitors, visit with volunteers, and to simply have a good time.

“The best part is seeing old friends, the race volunteers, the presidents, the board members, the vets, and all of our fellow mushers that we don’t get to see very often,” Midnight Run musher Mike Bestgeen said. The St. Cloud, Minnesota native won the Midnight Run in 2013.

“They’re from all over the country so we all meet together to race dogs and it’s nice to be able to come together and see them all again and visit.”

“We as the musher, we stand on the sleds we go out there but a lot of us–especially myself–wouldn’t get there without my handling crew, without the volunteers, without the race organization, things like that,” U.P. 200 musher and Skandia native Lisa Dietzen said. “I want to give a shout out to them and give them a big thanks because without them, this wouldn’t happen.”

First time U.P. 200 musher Dietzen said her team is ready to tackle the weekend–long race after participating in a few smaller races around the U.P.

“We’re as ready as we’re going to get anyway,” she said. “We did the Seney 300 earlier this year and I think that helped us prepare us for this race quite a bit. I felt pretty confident going into that one, so I should be confident going into this one.”

The U.P. 200 headquarters are in the Marquette YMCA, and there’s a silent auction and merchandise booth set up for the weekend.

Opening ceremonies for the U.P. 200 start at 6:15 p.m. Friday, with the thirteen teams slated to take off at 7 p.m. in downtown Marquette. The Midnight Run starts at 8 p.m. in Marquette, and the Jack Pine 30 starts at 9:30 a.m. Saturday in Gwinn.

More information can be found at the U.P. 200’s website.