One of my favorite events of the year gets underway tomorrow in Anchorage, Alaska. That’s where the ceremonial start of this year’s Iditarod sled dog race will get underway. This year there will be 73 mushers heading to the starting line with the intent of racing nearly 1000 miles (1609 km) to the finish line in Nome. The race is a test of determination and endurance not only for the men and women who enter, but their teams of sled dogs as well, with the route passing through remote sections of Alaska wilderness where conditions in March are often harsh.
For the third time in the race’s history the course has been altered. A lack of snow in the Anchorage area this year has left the trail in a sorry state heading into the start of the race, which was the case back in 2003 and 2015 as well. So, after the teams have their ceremonial start tomorrow, they’ll travel 350 miles (563 km) to the restart point in Fairbanks, where conditions are already predicted to be extremely cold, hovering around 0ºF/-17ºC on Monday when the race will resume. Usually the race restarts in Willow instead.
Fortunately, the rest of Alaska hasn’t been without its fair share of snowfall. Moving north to Fairbanks will give the racers, and their dogs, a much better trail to run on. And, conditions have been colder this winter too, which bodes well for the race too. In recent years, warmer temperatures have often left the trail soft and wet, which is harder for the sleds to run on. That will likely make the 980 mile (1577 km) dash to Nome a bit easier and faster.
Normally when writing a post about the start of the Iditarod I would run through a list of mushers who are the leading contenders heading into the event. But, let’s face it. After winning the race four of the last five years (only losing to his dad), Dallas Seavey is the clear favorite once again. At the age of 29, he’s poised to rewrite all of the records in this race. His father Mitch will probably be amongst the leaders as well, and look for racers like Jeff King, Aliy Zirkle, and Hugh Neff to be in the mix too.
As usual, it will take a few days into the race to see who is running well and to watch the strategies play out. There will probably be a few surprises at the top of the leaderboard as things first unfold. But, by the midway point it will be obvious who the contenders will be. Once racers get through their mandatory 24 and 8 hour rest periods and start to turn for Nome. But at this point, that is a long way off, so for now, we’ll just have to watch the ceremonial start and let things play out. It should be an interesting race once again.