The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race gathers 73 teams of mushers and sled dogs in Anchorage, Alaska, to pay tribute to Alaska’s history and the role that the sled dog played in it.
The 45th race will have its ceremonial start in Anchorage on March 4. From there, the teams will travel about 350 miles north to Fairbanks where the official race will begin on March 6 at 11 a.m. local time.
Temperatures on Monday in Fairbanks will hit a high of 20 degrees Fahrenheit for the restart, with a low of minus 8 F, according to Accuweather Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson. These temperatures are in line with the daily normal.
The Board of Directors of the Iditarod Trail Committee voted Feb. 10 to move the restart location from Willow to Fairbanks, according to the Iditarod Trail Committee. This is only the third time in history that the restart has been moved to Fairbanks due to poor conditions in the Alaska Range. As in 2003 and 2015, this year’s official start was moved north to Fairbanks due to insufficient snow in the mountain passes.
Overall, Alaska is having a decent snowfall season. The state as a whole has received more snow so far this winter than in the previous few years.
“Anchorage, back in late January, received above-normal snowfall for the first time in two years,” said Accuweather Meteorologist Jason Nicholls.
According to Nicholls, some areas around Anchorage have not been so fortunate.
Conditions in Fairbanks are also in better shape than other areas of Alaska this winter. Not only is snowfall above normal, but temperatures are 2.7 degrees colder than normal, according to Anderson.
The variance in temperature makes a big difference as Alaska had its warmest year on record in 2016, according to Anderson. The previous record was set in 2014, the year that preceded the last time the race’s restart was relocated.
Temperature departures from normal have varied across the state, with above-normal temperatures across the far North Slope. Anchorage, located in the south-central part of the state, is averaging temperatures 2.7 degrees below normal this winter, while Barrow, the country’s northernmost city, is averaging 10 degrees above normal, Anderson said.
The mushers will travel about 980 miles from Anchorage to end up in Nome, Alaska. Nome, while experiencing normal temperatures for the winter, has received below-average snowfall this season so far.
Anchorage will not get snow for the start of the race on Saturday, according to Nicholls.
Anderson said temperatures will be dropping and the conditions also look dry from March 6 to 10. Drier conditions mean more sunshine, very cold days and frigid nights. Little snowfall is expected for the rest of the race.
The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race has a long, little-known history. The Iditarod Trail actually began as a mail and supply route from coastal towns to mining camps and inland communities, according to the Iditarod website.
Sled dogs were an important part of day-to-day life in Alaskan villages. In 1925, mushers and their teams of dogs were monumental in delivering serum to Nome, which was experiencing a diphtheria epidemic.
Joe Redington, the 'Father of the Iditarod,' dreamed up this race in order to bring back the sled dog to Alaska and ultimately get the Iditarod Trail declared as a National Historic Trail.
The first race to stretch all the way to Nome was held in 1973 and took almost three weeks to complete.
In 2016, Dallas Seavey set the fastest winning time record by completing the race in 8 days, 11 hours, 20 minutes and 16 seconds. Seavey has won four out of the past five races and his father, Mitch Seavey, won in 2013. Both Dallas and his father will be riding again in the 2017 race.