The Iditarod is the world's longest and toughest sled dog race, across the state of Alaska from Anchorage on the south central coast to Nome on the Bering Sea just south of the Arctic Circle. It commemorates a 650-mile mid-winter emergency run to take serum from Nenana to Nome during the 1925 diphtheria epidemic. The race, which began in 1973, follows an old frozen-river mail route and is named for a deserted mining town along the way.
About 70 teams compete each year, and the winner is acclaimed the world's best long-distance dog musher. In 1985, Libby Riddles, age 28, was the first woman to win the race, coming in three hours ahead of the second-place finisher. It took her 18 days. Susan Butcher won in 1986, and again in 1987, 1988, and 1990. In 1991, Rick Swenson battled a howling blizzard on the last leg to win and become the first five-time winner (1977, 1979, 1981, 1982). His prize money was $50, 000 out of the $250, 000 purse. The 1992 winner, Martin
Buser, set a record time of 10 days, 19 hours, and 17 minutes. Buser set a new record of 8 days, 22 hours, and 46 minutes when he took his fourth win in 2002. Lance Mackey holds the record for most consecutive wins at four (2007-2010. Dallas Seavey was the youngest musher to win in 2012, going on to win two more Iditarods in 2014 and 2015. In 2014, Seavey broke all previous record times, crossing the finish in just 8 days, 13 hours, 4 minutes and 19 seconds. Beginning with the 2015 race, the first musher crossing the finish line received a $70, 000 check and a new Dodge pickup.
Mushers draw lots for starting position at a banquet held in Anchorage a couple of days before the race. Each musher, with a team of anywhere from 8 to 18 dogs, can expect to face 30-foot snowdrifts and winds of up to 60 miles an hour.
A number of events are clustered around the running of the race. At Wasilla, near Anchorage, Iditarod Days are held on the beginning weekend of the race and feature softball, golf on ice, fireworks, and snow sculptures. Anchorage stages an International Ice Carving Competition that weekend, with ice carvers from around the world creating their cold images in the city's Town Square. At Nome, the BERING SEA ICE GOLF CLASSIC, a six-hole golf tournament, is played on the frozen Bering Sea during the second week of the race.
Various organizations have campaigned against the Iditarod and other sled dog races because of the risks to the dogs and alleged mistreatment. Iditarod organizers provide each dog with a physical examination before the race, yet, according to newspaper reports, it is not unusual for at least one dog each year to die from exhaustion or injuries sustained during the race.
Iditarod Trail Committee, Inc.
2100 S. Knik-Goose Bay Rd. Wasilla, AK 99654
907-376-5155; fax: 907-373-6998