Economic woes pinch Iditarod, inspire new aid

Thu Mar 4, 2010 6:20pm EST
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By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - In hard economic times, even the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, the famed long-distance trek across frozen Alaska starting on Saturday, has had to scratch around for a little extra assistance.

Sponsorship and business woes have cut race revenues by nearly $1 million over the past 15 months, forcing deep cuts in administration and prizes awarded to mushers who make the 1,150-mile (1,851-km) sled-dog journey from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska.

This year's total prize purse is about $590,000, a $52,000 decrease from last year's purse and significantly less than the $925,000 paid out to mushers in the race two years ago.

Race managers are hoping merchandise sales, subscriptions to online video and other revenues will pick up as the race gets underway and, over the longer term, the economy recovers, said Iditarod Executive Director Stan Hooley.

"We're certainly having to work harder in these challenging economic times to raise the revenue that we'd like to raise to restore that purse to the levels we had a couple of years ago," Hooley said at a news conference in Anchorage on Wednesday.

To help out, four-time champion Jeff King -- who has said he intends to make this year's Iditarod his final run -- has chipped in $50,000 to bolster the race's finances. The city of Nome, for which the Iditarod is a major annual event, has contributed a similar amount.

Other organizations, including government entities, are stepping up their involvement to keep the race running smoothly. The U.S. Coast Guard, which has decided to throw some financial support to top Fairbanks musher Ken Anderson, is a new contributor to the event.

Iditarod involvement is a way to showcase the Coast Guard's growing presence in the Arctic, made necessary by increased vessel traffic as sea ice disappears, said Petty Officer First Class David Mosley.   Continued...

<p>Sonny Lindner's team races out of the chute during the official restart of the Iditarod Race in Willow Alaska March 8, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Nathaniel Wilder</p>