The Iditarod may be an iconic sled dog race, but it isn’t what it used to be. Following Wednesday’s press briefing, KYUK reports that a smaller field of mushers will face less ice on the Bering Sea as they head to Nome.
There are only 52 mushers signed up to race their dogs to Nome on Saturday. That a far cry from the 80 teams that staged in Anchorage at the beginning of the millennium. In fact, you have to go back to the 80s to see this few teams at the start line. Five of the teams leaving Anchorage and then Willow this weekend are from the Yukon-Kusksokwim Delta. And before they even start, they know that they are facing diverse trail conditions.
Snow is deep at the beginning of the trail at the restart in Willow and into the Alaska range, but the snow cover in the remote area around the old ghost town of Iditarod is scant. That’s usually a place where mushers can count on a lot of snow under their sleds, but not this year. In the past, this remote area has been a deciding point in the race, at which leading mushers have either dashed ahead or bogged down. Some have even gotten lost.
The dash across Norton Sound is also off the list for this race; the ice isn’t thick enough. Teams can expect to run close to shore and on shore in places during much of that section of the Iditarod trail. The teams will be facing deep snow, scant snow, and little ice as they head north, and that’s just what it looks like as they begin. During the nine days to two weeks of their run to Nome, anything can happen and always has.
Teams will find out their starting positions Thursday night at the 2019 Iditarod Mushers Banquet.