Iditarod Changes Course; Will Start From Fairbanks

Dallas Seavey, the defending champion in the Iditarod, will start from Fairbanks and not the usual Anchorage starting line this year. (DALLAS SEAVEY)
Dallas Seavey, the defending champion in the Iditarod, will start from Fairbanks and not the usual Anchorage starting line this year. (DALLAS SEAVEY)

We’re hitching up our huskies and taking a dog sled journey in the upcoming March issue of Alaska Sporting Journal. Following up on our December profile of the dog mushing Berington twins, we’ll have an Iditarod preview this month with among other stories an interview with defending champ Dallas Seavey, whose second win in the “Last Great Race on Earth” followed his 2012 championship when he became the event’s youngest winner.

If he’s to win his third title in four years, Seavey will do so from a different route. In most races, the Iditarod’s dog teams shove off from Nome – the route is alternated a bit in odd and even years, but almost always from Nome. But circumstances – read, low snowfall totals – have changed this year, and Fairbanks will mark the official start of the race on March 9 after the ceremonial start in Anchorage.

From the Fairbanks Daily Miner:

Members of the trail committee’s board of directors met Tuesday and voted unanimously to change the course due to low snowfall in some of the most treacherous sections of the trail’s roughly 1,000 miles.

Similar conditions forced the race’s restart to move from Willow to Fairbanks in 2003, bypassing the Alaska Range but keeping it roughly the same distance. The move to Fairbanks was considered in snow-starved 2014, too, and after the board’s decision kept mushers on the traditional southern route, the bruised and beaten up dog drivers criticized officials for not avoiding what some of them described as a catastrophe.

This year’s Iditarod will be 19 miles shorter — 968 miles versus 987 — than the traditional northern route that teams would have taken in an odd year and will pass through two new checkpoints in the Interior: Huslia and Koyukuk. In 2003, mushers had to backtrack on the Yukon River to make more miles, so the jaunt north to the villages means a snaky yet flowing route that still goes about 1,000 miles total to the finish in Nome.

First, though, Iditarod’s ceremonial start is scheduled for March 7 in Anchorage in an 11-mile untimed trip through the city’s party atmosphere, on streets and trails. Then it will restart in Fairbanks on March 9, a Monday instead of the usual Sunday restart in Willow, to allow kennels enough time to drive dog trucks north 360 miles.


This Alaska Dispatch report stressed how communities must adapt to the change of the course:

After word came Tuesday night that organizers would re-route more than 600 miles of trail because portions of the original trail were deemed impassable, communities and commercial interests along both the old and new trails were regrouping.

Steve Perrins, owner of the Perrin’s Rainy Pass Lodge on Puntilla Lake, said he suspects he’ll lose $25,000 worth of business this year.

“That’s just quick math,” he said. “That hurts this time of year, but what can you do?

 “We take it in stride and go on to the next step.”

 Takotna checkpoint manager Nell Huffman said Wednesday the tiny community of 50 had been preparing for the race, with some supplies purchased and more than $4,000 raised to help fund the checkpoint. She said Wednesday residents have already received boxes of donated supplies for the famous Takotna pies from schools in South Carolina.

 The villagers will hold on to those supplies until next year’s race, but Huffman said some money and food will go toward school activities. Pies may show up at an array of community events in the next year.

 “We half expected (the restart decision),” Huffman said.  “We hoped it came here and understand why it’s not. This is the highlight of the year for Takotna.”

 McGrath Mayor Dustin Parker said while the community understands the safety concerns behind the move, it’s still hard to swallow for the hub community of about 400. Many residents look forward to the seasonal jobs the race brings, from picking up extra shifts on the airport baggage ramp to helping bag groceries at the Alaska Commercial Co. store.

 “Those are all the jobs put on hiatus,” he said.