ANCHORAGE, Alaska – A winter of heavy snow in Alaska is keeping trail breakers busy clearing the route of the 1,000-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, but no one can remove other weather-related challenges like jumbled ice along the state’s western coast and the heightened possibility of run-ins with grouchy moose.
As always in the unpredictable trek through wilderness and Alaska Native villages, there are mountains to climb, forests and frozen rivers to cross – and maybe some blizzards and fierce winds to battle after the competition begins Sunday in Willow, 50 miles north of Anchorage. A ceremonial start in Anchorage along an 11-mile urban stretch today will give fans a close-up view of the 66 teams hoping to reach the finish line in Nome, an old gold rush town on Alaska’s western coast.
Participants are from Alaska, four other states and four other countries. They include past winners, veterans, young guns and rookies.
The contenders include defending champion John Baker, who won last year’s race in record time, and Hugh Neff, who comes in less than three weeks after he won the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race by 26 seconds. Besides Baker, five other past Iditarod champions also are signed up. They include four-time winner Lance Mackey, the only musher to win both the Iditarod and the Quest in the same year.