Temperatures reached into the 20s on Sunday - warm for sled dogs - as 63 Iditarod teams began the 1,100-mile race to Nome in earnest, departing through a race chute set up on snowy Willow Lake.
Hundreds of fans arrived for the official start following a ceremonial run Saturday down Anchorage’s 4th Avenue.
Teams to watch this year are defending champ Martin Buser, two-time winner Jeff King, five-time winner Rick Swenson and Montana’s Doug Swingley, who holds the race’s speed record at 9 days, 2 hours, 42 minutes.
Jack Berry, a race veteran from Homer, spent the hour before departing checking over his sled and gear, and the competition.
“I’m not just watching Swenson” and the other former champs, Berry said. “I count 30 good teams here.”
Drivers typically race from here to the Yentna River, 30 miles from the start, and then rest their teams to avoid the heat of the day. More fans await on the Yentna, reaching the remote river on snowmobiles, setting up bonfires and tailgating Alaska-style, in the snow.
The trail is hard-packed and fast despite a year of spotty snowfall.
Mushers say they expect rough terrain in the usual spots in the first few days, including the Dalzell Gorge, which drops 1,000 feet in 5-1/2 miles.