Monday, June 24, 2024

Race Organization

The Iditarod Race Organization | Iditarod General Information

Experience the Iditarod Race
The Iditarod is with about 1050 miles the longest and toughest dog sled race in the world. The start takes place annually since 1973 on the first weekend in March in Anchorage and the race is held on parts of the historic Iditarod Trail, which runs through the largely untouched natural landscape of Alaska. The finish line is Nome on the Bering Sea. At the ceremonial start in Anchorage, the individual teams start with 12 dogs and cover a distance of just over 20 miles. Sunday is then the official start of the race in Willow. Here the teams start again with up to 14 dogs. During the race, which usually lasts 8 to 15 days, the mushers - practically on their own - have to brave arctic temperatures and icy winds with their dogs before they reach Nome.

For six thousand years, sled dogs have served as the principal form of transportation for the native peoples of the north. As white settlers, gold miners, and fur trappers moved into what is today Alaska and the northern territories of Canada, they, too, used the dog team for winter transportation. When gold camps boomed in the interior the demand for mail and general supplies deliveries during the winter months were provided by sled dog teams. One of the major routes followed by the teams was the Iditarod Trail, which crossed Alaska from Seward on the Kenai Peninsula to Nome on the Bering Sea Coast. In the winter of 1925, a diphtheria epidemic struck Nome. The anti-serum required to stop the epidemic needed to be quickly transported to Nome, but no roads to Nome existed, ships could not sail through the pack ice, and air travel was too dangerous. The Iditarod Trail was the only answer, and a group of 18 dog teams and musher’s relayed the serum 674 miles from Nenana to Nome. This is the well-known story of Balto – the lead dog of the initial serum race. Clearly sled dogs were a key part of Alaska's early history, but they began to disappear as snowmobiles, airplanes, and roads arrived in Alaska during the middle 20th century. In response to this disappearance, Joe Redington Sr. and a group of musher worked together to start a race across Alaska that followed the old Iditarod Trail. This race was the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, and it has become the world's premiere sled dog race since its first running in 1973.

The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race restart starts on Sunday afternoon at Willow Lake, and that's when the real racing starts. The Willow restart offers fans one more opportunity to witness mushers and their teams before they travel farther off the beaten path on their almost 1,000-mile route to Nome. Several thousand spectators turn out to support the 50 to 80 dog teams, and the Willow Community Center is taken over by vendors selling food and souvenirs. Starting at 2 p.m. on Sunday, dog teams will stage at Willow Lake before departing in two-minute intervals. For those who are unable to attend in person, the restart will be broadcast live on the Iditarod website.

Get in touch with if you want to take a comprehensive winter holiday that includes the thrill of the Iditarod. Our Iditarod tour packages take Iditarod fans to the Willow Restart. Check out our Iditarod Race Start Tour. For guests who want to follow the Iditarod mushers a little longer and want to see more of Alaska, we have designed the following Iditarod Tour Packages "Iditarod Chase the Race" and "Iditarod and Northern Lights Tour".

The Organizers
The Iditarod Trail Committee is a nonprofit corporation that relies on volunteers and donations to put together the race every year.  The permanent staff, based in Wasilla, consists of a handful of people, including the full-time race director and part-time race manager.  Annual budget for the race is roughly $2 million dollars, which covers the purse, operating expenses, overhead, and shipping food and supplies to checkpoints. The staff is supplemented by several thousand volunteers. A race marshal is the top race official and is assisted by a staff of race judges. At each checkpoint, race personnel include the checker, who records the official time, number of dogs in the team, and checks required gear.  Others may assist the checker, especially if the teams are closely spaced as they arrive.  Other race personnel at each checkpoint handle communications and logistics. Sponsors are critical to the survival of dog mushing and sled dog racing.  Corporations, businesses, and individuals sponsor individual mushers as well as particular races.

The Volunteers
Working with the staff of the Iditarod Trail Committee are hundreds of volunteers who labor behind the scenes.  As many as 1,500 in any given year.  In 2020, more than three hundred volunteers came from other states and countries to help. The trail is marked every year by Iditarod trail breakers on snowmachines, as well as local volunteers working on sections near their villages.  Volunteer trail breakers ride snowmachines about six hours ahead of the mushers, breaking the trail and where necessary marking it with four-foot wooden stakes with colored reflecting tape.  The Iditarod Trail Committee pays their expenses. Others help with the 60 to 100 tons of trail supplies, straw for the dogs, tents, fuel, and food for the checkpoints.   Every item is handled many times, from initial pickup to final delivery to some of the most remote places in Alaska. The volunteer pilots, known as the Iditarod Air Force, fly through some of the worst winter weather to transport food, supplies, people, and dogs along the trail.  These experienced Alaskan pilots use their own planes, and the Iditarod Trail Committee pays for gas, oil, and insurance.

It takes more than two hundred volunteers in Anchorage to get the start off on Saturday, and about the same number of volunteers for the restart on Sunday. During the race, two hundred to three hundred volunteers at race headquarters answer phones and e-mail, input race statistics into computers, manage race communications, sell merchandise, handle arrangements for dropped dogs, organize the pre-race banquet, work with sponsors, and a myriad of other tasks. In Nome for the finish, in addition to local residents, at least 50 people pay their own way there to volunteer at headquarters, sell merchandise, help in the dog lot, organize the post-race banquet, and more.

The Veterinarians
About thirty-five volunteer veterinarians monitor the health and welfare of dogs racing in the Iditarod.  At least three veterinarians are at each checkpoint, and they examine each dog.  Several thousand dog exams are performed, from the pre-race at headquarters, to team checks along the trail, to the final health exam after the finish line. Just as the dogs and mushers must meet certain qualifications, so must the vets, including five years in practice and previous experience working with racing sled dogs.  Veterinarians are selected in August. The chief vet makes optional kennel visits before the race.  Pre-race veterinary work includes vaccinations, deworming, EKG's, blood work, and making sure each musher has completed Dog Care Agreement Forms. During the race, the vets examine the dogs at checkpoints.  Mushers are required to carry dog-care diaries which serve as written medical records for the dogs and are read and updated by the vets at each checkpoint.  Vets also conduct random drug testing as a precaution, monitor dropped dogs, and determine cause of death for any dogs that die during the race. In addition to looking out for the dogs before and during the race, many vets conduct medical studies, including research on gastro-intestinal disorders and vitamin deficiency.

The Equipment
Every sled contains at least one cooler, used to keep food hot, bowls for the dogs, ladle, cooking pots, dishes, cups, and utensils for the driver.  Many also choose to keep a thermos handy. Spare parts may include collars, lines and harnesses, sled runner plastic.  Tools used for repairs may include needles, dental floss, screwdriver, wrenches, nuts and bolts, hooks and snaps, hacksaw blade and extra wire. Most mushers carry additional personal and safety supplies, including a headlamp, chemical hand warmers, knife, a complete set of clothes in a waterproof bag, and a basic first-aid kit. Other items may include a space blanket, flashlight, matches, a compass, heat packs, sunglasses, lip salve, energy food, and a survival manual. Most mushers bring along a few light weight personal items such as a portable tape or CD player and headphones, a camera and film, soap, toothbrush and toothpaste, comb or brush, razors and shaving supplies. An extra pair of glasses or contact lenses are a necessity.  Some bring portable alarm clocks to wake them at checkpoints.

The Race Procedures
•    All participants must be registered by December 1st of the year preceding the race.
•    All Mushers must be at least 18 years old at the start of the race.  Any rookie musher must have completed approved qualifying races.
•    All mushers must pay an entry fee.  US$4000 includes Iditarod and P.R.I.D.E. membership dues.
•    Food must be sent to the checkpoints before the race.
•    Replacement sleds (no more than two) can be sent to the checkpoints before the race.
•    Dogs must be examined before the race by a race veterinarian.
•    Dogs must be electronically tagged before the race.
•    Dogs must be "northern breeds" suited for Arctic travel.
•    There must be only one musher to a team and that musher must complete the entire race

The Race Rules
•    Beginning at 9:00 a.m. on the first Saturday in March, mushers start the race at two-minute intervals.
•    Each musher must stop at each checkpoint.
•    Each musher must make a 24-hour stop during the race.  This stop may be taken at the mushers option at a time most beneficial to the dogs.
•    Each musher must make an eight-hour stop on the Yukon River.
•    Each musher must make an eight-hour stop at White Mountain.
•    Each musher must carry mandatory items:  a sleeping bag, an axe, a pair of snowshoes, eight booties for each dog etc..
•    The musher will be disqualified for cruel or inhumane treatment of dogs or for improper dog care.
•    No drugs may be used by a musher or given to a dog. The ITC has the right to conduct random drug testing for a musher at any point.
•    The musher will be disqualified if he or she accepts assistance between checkpoints.
•    A musher may have no more than 14 dogs and no fewer than 12 dogs at the start of the race.

Mushers Conduct
•    A musher will not be penalized for aiding another musher in an emergency.
•    A musher may not tamper with another musher's dogs, food or gear.  Or interfere with the progress of another team.
•    A musher's personal gear or supplies may not be transported along the trail by mechanized means.
•    A musher must allow another musher to pass if he or she comes within 50 feet and asks to pass.
•    Any musher must act in a sportsmanlike manner throughout the race.
•    No litter of any kind may be left on the trail or the checkpoints.
•    In the event that a moose, caribou, or buffalo is killed in defense of life or property, the musher must gut the animal.
•    A musher may carry an emergency locator device.  Activation of the device will make a musher ineligible to continue.
•    Mushers are restricted to the use of traditional forms of navigation.  Electronic or mechanical devices that measure speed and direction are prohibited.