Recession means even tougher sledding for Iditarod

Fri Mar 6, 2009 3:34pm EST
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By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - The U.S. recession has reached even Alaska's snowbound Iditarod Trail, taking a toll on competitors, organizers and sponsors of the world's most famous dog-sled race, which starts in Anchorage on Saturday.

The purse for the grueling 1,100-mile trek to Nome, which commemorates a lifesaving medicine relay in 1925, has been slashed to about $650,000, from $900,000 last year.

That is mostly because of the smaller field of racers, each of whom has to pay a $4,000 entry fee. Only 67 mushers and their dog teams are scheduled to start Alaska's most important sporting event, down from last year's record field of 96.

But sponsors are hurting too.

One longtime backer, outdoor gear retailer Cabela's Inc, slashed its support by almost two-thirds this year to $75,000. Its place as one of the four major sponsors was taken by oil giant Exxon Mobil Corp, which has weathered the recent financial turmoil better than most companies.

Another big sponsor, U.S. No. 4 bank Wells Fargo & Co, is holding firm, but as one of the financial institutions that received billion of dollars under the U.S. government's Troubled Asset Relief Program, it is under political pressure to cut non-essential spending.

General Communication Inc, an Anchorage-based telecommunications firm that uses its Iditarod sponsorship to showcase technology in remote Alaska locations, is maintaining its support for now but not planning any increases. "I will say things are very tight this year, more so than they have ever been," said company vice president David Morris.


<p>Siberian Huskies sit tethered during a day of preparation for the Arden Grange Aviemore 2009 Sled Dog Rally, which will take place on Saturday and Sunday, near Loch Morlich in Scotland January 22, 2009. REUTERS/David Moir</p>