Iditarod Race goes high tech with GPS devices

Fri Mar 4, 2011 10:31am EST
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By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - When the 39th Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race starts in Anchorage on Saturday, 62 mushers and their dogs will embark on an annual trek that has evolved far from its shoestring roots.

The leading contenders are professionals, working year-round to prepare for the race and financed by corporate sponsors. There is a significant monetary reward at the end -- $50,400 and a new truck for the winner, and smaller cash prizes for all the finishers.

Mushers are equipped with the most high-tech outdoors equipment available, including custom-made sleds with adjustable runners for varying snow conditions and, starting this year, global-positioning-satellite devices to check on their progress.

There are cell phones and blogs and live-streamed updates keeping the world informed about events along the 1,150-mile trail, which is especially smooth and groomed this year.

"It looks like we've got as good a trail as I've seen in a long time," Race Marshal Mark Nordman said at a media briefing this week.

The winner is expected to reach the Bering Sea town of Nome in about nine days, less than half the travel time needed by winners in the Iditarod's early years, when races were more akin to long wilderness tours than serious sporting events.

But despite the modern advances, the world's most famous sled-dog race still pays homage to its historic roots.

The trail through the wilderness is the same route traveled during the gold rushes a century ago.   Continued...

<p>Reigning Iditarod champion Lance Mackey and his team charge down the trail just after the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage, Alaska, March 6, 2010. REUTERS/Nathaniel Wilder</p>