Iditarod mushers begin sled-dog race through Alaska wilderness

Mon Mar 9, 2015 5:48pm EDT
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By Steve Quinn

JUNEAU, Alaska (Reuters) - Mushers from around the world set off on Alaska's famed Iditarod sled-dog race to Nome on Monday in sub zero temperatures on an alternative never-before-used route from Fairbanks that could lend a new level of unpredictability to the contest.

The nearly 1,000-mile (1,600 km) Iditarod race, which typically takes nine days or longer to complete, commemorates a 1925 rescue mission that delivered diphtheria serum by sled-dog relay to the Bering Sea coastal community of Nome.

But for the first time since 2003, the mushers will not compete along one of two traditional trails after race officials deemed sections of the established route unsafe. Instead, they created an alternate trail, and moved the start to Fairbanks from Willow.

Defending champion Dallas Seavey said the change in a race that may level the playing field, noting the trail is new to veteran mushers and rookies alike.

"You're not really sure how fast the race is going to be, considering the change," Seavey said. "It's going to require mushers to have a lot of confidence in themselves and their dog teams."

The race kicked off with 78 mushers, each with up to a dozen dogs, set off in staggered starts, about 2 to 4 minutes apart, with Canadian rookie Rob Cooke starting off the race at 10 a.m.

Most competitors live in Alaska, but formidable opponents come from Norway, Canada, Sweden, New Zealand, France and Australia.

The race features lonely stretches from 18 to 119 miles (29-192 km) along a series of 16 checkpoints between Fairbanks and the finish line in Nome, the first one 60 miles (95.5 km) away in Nenana.   Continued...

Kelly Maixner's team charges out of the chute at the 2015 ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race in downtown Anchorage, Alaska March 7, 2015.  REUTERS/Mark Meyer