ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP)- If there is one day when mushers in the Iditarod sled dog race don’t have to worry about trail conditions, it should be Saturday during the ceremonial start.
A lack of snow south of the Alaska Range created treacherous trail conditions, forcing race officials to move the start of the race to Monday in Fairbanks. A stalled jet stream pushed Arctic air and snow into the Midwest and the East Coast, but kept Alaska fairly warm and dry this winter.
Despite Alaska’s largest city receiving only about a third of its normal winter snowfall, Anchorage is still staging the traditional ceremonial start to the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. City crews overnight delivered up to 350 dump truck loads of snow and spread it out over city blocks so the show can go on. The festivities started Saturday morning in very un-Iditarod like conditions, almost 40 degrees and a light rain fell.
City maintenance workers stockpiled snow from neighborhoods the past few months and kept it for winter events, culminating with the Iditarod ceremonial start, said Paul VanLandingham with the public works department.
This event is designed for fans who can’t be on the rugged thousand-mile trail stretching from Fairbanks to Nome.
Mushers will take off from the start line along Anchorage’s Fourth Avenue every two minutes. Fans line the streets and cheer on the mushers and their Iditariders, who are people who have won auctions to be in the sled. The route will go over 19 city blocks before it meets up with the city’s trail system and ends in East Anchorage.
It’s a very casual atmosphere before the start. Fans arrive early Saturday morning to meet the mushers, have their photos taken and pet one of the estimated thousand dogs that will be in the race.
Once the event ends, fans and mushers, with their dogs in tow, will drive about eight hours north to Fairbanks. On Monday, the atmosphere changes as mushers will become all about business for the start of the competitive race.
This year’s Iditarod includes 78 mushers, including six former champions and 20 rookies.
The winner will receive a bigger purse, $70,000, which is $19,600 more than what defending champion Dallas Seavey received last year.
The new route will remove the hazards of the Alaska Range, including the infamous Dalzell Gorge, where many mushers crashed last year trying to control dog teams moving at breakneck speeds over barren, gravelly trails. The change will put mushers on river ice for about 600 miles, which could create new problems along the unfamiliar route. The winner is expected under the burled arch in Nome, a Bering Sea coastal town, in about 10 days.
It’s the second time Fairbanks has hosted the official start of the race; similar low-snow conditions in 2003 also forced the start north.
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