Mush: Lack of snow pushes Iditarod race north
Mush: Lack of snow pushes Iditarod race north Dogs cool off with their tongues out during the Iditarod dog sled race in 2014 (Reuters)
Mush: Lack of snow pushes Iditarod race north
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Much of the start of the world's most famous sled dog race is covered in barren gravel. That forced Iditarod organizers to move the start further north. That's where there is snow and ice.

A weather pattern that buried the eastern U.S. in snow has left Alaska fairly warm and relatively snow-free this winter. That is especially true south of the Alaska Range.

"If I have one more person say to me to move the Iditarod to Boston, I'm going to shake my head," said race director Mark Nordman.

The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race started Saturday, March 7. There was a ceremonial run through Anchorage, Alaska. But the official start two days later was moved 225 miles north. It goes over the Alaska Range, to Fairbanks. The route will avoid the area that left many mushers bruised and bloodied last year.

Iditarod officials said the conditions are worse this year.

The race's chief executive officer, Stan Hooley, called the conditions "pretty miserable." And last year was no picnic.

One musher last year was taken out by a rescue helicopter. He had made it through the Dalzell Gorge only to hit his head on a tree stump in the Farewell Burn. Knocked unconscious for at least an hour, Scott Janssen got back on the trail after waking up. But shortly after, he broke his ankle while walking on ice trying to corral a loose dog.

"As an outdoorsman, to have to be rescued from the trail isn't a wonderful thing," Janssen said.

This year's race will feature 78 mushers. Six are former champions and 20 are rookies. The winner is expected in Nome in about 10 days.

Anchorage gets about 60 inches of snow in a normal year. This year, only about 20 inches have fallen. Alaskans can thank the jet stream for the weather change. The stream has been delivering warmer air from the Pacific, said Dave Snider, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Anchorage.

The new route, which puts mushers on river ice for about 600 miles, could level the playing field.

"Nobody has a plan," Nordman said. "You're not going to be stopping and putting your snow hook into the same tree you had the last 20 years. It's a whole new ballgame."

Brent Sass of Eureka, Alaska, is running his third Iditarod. He is coming off a win in last month's 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.

"It doesn't hurt a guy like me who has only run the race a couple of times," he said of the route change. "For the guys that have run the race 20 times, it's not just the normal routine. So it might throw them off a little bit."

Among the veterans in this year's race is the defending champion, Dallas Seavey. The 2014 bizarre finish will be remembered as much as the poor trail conditions.

A sudden blizzard blew four-time champion and race leader Jeff King out of the race when he was about 25 miles from the finish line of the nearly 1,000-mile race.

Then Aliy Zirkle, who was solidly in second place, waited out the storm at the last checkpoint, 22 miles from Nome, for two hours, 38 minutes. She got back on the trail when Seavey blew through the checkpoint. But she lost the race by two minutes, 22 seconds. It was her third straight runner-up finish.

The route change eliminates the mountainous terrain and treacherous gorge. But it could present mushers with a whole new set of problems with a flat trail on unpredictable river ice. Plus, because it's an entirely new route, mushers say they can't rely much on information, even something as simple as the mileage between village checkpoints, provided by Iditarod officials.

By removing the Alaska Range, mushers may assume it will be a very fast race, Seavey said.

"Just because it's a flat trail does not mean your dogs can all of a sudden do 10 times what they've been able to do in the past," said Seavey, a two-time champion. "I feel that is a trap that will catch a lot of people."

"In the end, this race will not be won on tricks or gimmicks. It will be won on good dogmanship," he said.

Critical thinking challenge: What makes this year's race a whole new ballgame?

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  • Jake-Gil
    3/11/2015 - 12:17 p.m.

    Wow, I can't believe that this huge event got moved! I bet it was hard for the organizers of the race to move the start and course of it. It really is a whole new ballgame because now almost everything will be changed. I think it will be hard for all the racers because of the new course.

    • anthonym-DiB
      3/11/2015 - 12:44 p.m.

      i think the race would be much more dangerous sence the racer are use to the old one and i believe it will confuse the racer and cause more danger or be lost so they should stay with the old race.

  • JH2001skater
    3/11/2015 - 01:03 p.m.

    its a whole new ball game because they are racing on a track that no one has practiced on. So no one will know whats instore or what the track is gonna be like.

  • AB2001blue
    3/11/2015 - 01:03 p.m.

    Thsi is very cool a lot of people will enjoy these because dogs can learn to work with each other.This year is a good year to do this cause is snowing and it would be fun

  • GD2000marinecorp
    3/11/2015 - 01:08 p.m.

    The thing that makes it different during this years race is that the race starting line was pushed 225 miles north of the original starting line, because of all the snow the eastern, U.S. got, and because the original starting line is covered in barren gravel.

  • carterma-And
    3/11/2015 - 03:28 p.m.

    This years race is a whole new ball game because the location is different and not many of the racers are used to these conditions which are treacherous.

  • Ryan-Gil
    3/11/2015 - 03:31 p.m.

    I think that the race is going to bedifferent for mushers that have run it before because they won't be running the same race they always have.

    • Cameron1003464
      3/12/2015 - 11:54 a.m.

      Racing dogs are really fun, but racing dogs in the snow with a sled is a different. They are very strong and wow they can run and to people that do race have a fun time.

  • stanleyw-And
    3/11/2015 - 03:44 p.m.

    the more ice and snow that will be accommodated in this year's race and might come down to the ability to maneuver and traction levels.

  • JordanK-Kut
    3/11/2015 - 04:38 p.m.

    I think it is very cool that the Iditarod is being moved this year! Even though it is sad that they didn't get enough snow to do the race as they normally would it will be fun to watch the Iditarod and see who wins this race! As said in the article the race is a whole new ballgame this year so since the course is different maybe a rookie will win it. I remember in elementary school that when we studied the Iditarod it was the normal race track and Dallas Seavey won it! Now the elementary students will be able to something different this year because it is a different race track!

  • AinsleyW-Kut
    3/11/2015 - 04:39 p.m.

    I think this year in the Iditarod will be interesting because usually the people that have won before are at an advantage because they've already run the course, but now the Rookies are at an advantage because the change of route won't through them off because they've never done it. I also fear that many more people will be hurt because no one knows what the course is going to be like and there could be rough spots that will surprise people. I also think it's funny because when we think of Alaska we think of a cold snowy place. But, now places like Boston have more snowfall than Alaska!

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