Monday, March 09, 2015

Iditarod 2015: Snow Arrives Just in Time!

The 2015 Iditarod got underway in Anchorage, Alaska over the weekend with 78 mushers setting off from downtown as part of the ceremonial start to the biggest sled dog race in the entire world. But if you've been following the events leading up to the start of the competition you probably already know that the lack of snow along the Iditarod Trail has forced race organizers to make some dramatic changes to the route. The actual restart of the race will take place today in Fairbanks, which is 225 miles (362 km) further north than the Iditarod traditionally runs. The move seems to be paying off however, as some much needed snow arrived in a timely fashion over the weekend.

About 4 inches (10 cm) of snow fell along the Iditarod Trail on Sunday, bring a blanket of fresh powder that the dogs and mushers are sure to appreciate. The route that will be taken to Nome this year incorporates a lot of frozen rivers, which is very different to run on than snow, and could create some real challenges for the teams. At this point, any amount of snow will probably make them feel a bit better as they launch the 1000 mile (1600 km) journey that is expected to take roughly nine days to complete.

The mushers will see a staggered restart beginning at 10 AM local time today. That's when the dog teams will be turned lose at last, and the true race will begin. Spectators are expected to line the route out of Fairbanks, cheering their favorite teams on. The route will give them ample opportunity to do just that, with the first mile and a half (2.4 km) being run on city streets before turning onto a frozen river leading out of town. After that, most fans of the race will follow along on the official website, where a constantly changing leaderboard will update us to the standings. Expect perennial favorites like Mitch and Dallas Seavey, and Jeff King to make a move early to separate themselves from the pack.

This isn't the first time the race has been run between Fairbanks and Nome. Back in 2003 similar weather conditions forced the Iditarod to take this unique route, with a surprise victory earning the win. Norwegian musher Robert Sorlie claimed the top spot in that race, and his efforts are a good reminder that anyone can win this race, particularly when it is being run on mostly unknown ground. Perhaps this route will be the great equalizer, and a new contender will arise to challenge the established names.

Over the next couple of weeks we'll be watching the race closely, as it is always a source for high drama. Last year's dramatic finish is the perfect example of this as it appeared that Jeff King would be assured of another win just 25 miles (40 km) from the finish line. But a surprise blizzard blew him off course, causing him to be disoriented and lose his way. That opened the door for Dallas Seavey to claim the win, his second in three years.

Will something that dramatic happen again? Who knows! That's why they call this "The Last Great Race."

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