Warm Winter Melts Iditarod Plans

Alaska sled dog races considering reroutes

Jan 23, 2015
Outside Magazine
iditarod alaska outside

Race organizers were criticized for not moving the start to Fairbanks last year.    Bureau of Land Management/Flickr

Another warm winter with little snow has signaled problems for Alaska’s sled dog races, including the Northern Lights 300 and Iditarod. Without being able to rely on cold, snowy conditions to buffer the icy trails and ensure safe passage over frozen rivers, officials are seeking alternative race routes.

Iditarod officials must decide whether to move the Iditarod to Fairbanks from Southcentral Alaska for its March start, the Alaska Dispatch News reported. In its 42-year existence, the 1,000-mile race has been moved only once. Officials debated a move last year, which had similar warm weather, but they maintained the old route.

“Nothing has changed at this point, but you want to have a plan B in place and Fairbanks would be the place to go,” race marshal Mark Nordman told the Alaska Dispatch News.

After a ceremonial start in Anchorage, the race is scheduled to begin on March 7 in Willow before taking mushers through the Alaska Range, along the Yukon River and Bering Sea to Nome. The Alaska Range section can be dangerous in low-snow conditions, and last year’s organizers faced criticism for keeping the normal route, particularly for having mushers traverse the rocky Dalzell Gorge.

A final decision will be made in February. Towns and villages along the traditional route push for it to be used because of the economic benefits.

“When we don’t come through a village, it’ll be a big hit,” Nordman told the Washington Times. “But they all realize. They see it every day. Their travel is harder because of the lack of snow in some places.” He said that his ultimate responsibility is to the mushers and their dogs.