The Iditarod is moving to Fairbanks

Monica Zappa makes her way through Anchorage during the 2015 Iditarod ceremonial start. The same year, teams left Anchorage and headed to Fairbanks for the re-start because of low snow throughout much of the traditional trail (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

Once again, the Iditarod start is moving to Fairbanks.

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The race’s Board of Directors met Friday in Anchorage and voted unanimously to change the race’s starting point from Willow to Fairbanks. Almost immediately after the decision was made behind closed doors in an executive session, Race Director Mark Nordman held a short press conference that local TV station KTVA broadcasted live over Facebook.

“Everybody was really somber,” Nordman said of the vote.

The board weighed impacts to the communities that will be bypassed because of the reroute, including the effect to local economies, according to Nordman.

“Everybody knows what a big decision this was to make,” Nordman said. “These are very good friends of Iditarod’s out there, and it’s tough for all of us.”

This is the third time the re-start has been moved to Fairbanks in the race’s 45-year history. And it’s the second time in a row the event will not go through it’s southern route, skipping communities like Anvik, Shageluk, and Grayling. The Fairbanks trail heads westward toward Galena before veering north towards Huslia then back down to the Yukon. The general routing is actually similar to the original 1925 trail used during Nome’s diptheria outbreak.

A map of the 2015 Fairbanks race route from via the Iditarod Trail Committee.

In spite of good winter conditions across the vast majority of the route, snow is unacceptably low in one critical section of the trail in the Alaska Range around Rainy Pass and into the Dalzell Gorge.

“Fairbanks has good snow, even the coast has good snow, McGrath has good snow,” Nordman said of conditions around the state. He even referenced steady flurries just outside the press conference. “Nobody was thinking snow.”

But trail crews have reported that there’s just 12 to 14 inches of accumulation in the mountain passes.

“That’s really low snow to try and go ahead over that terrain,” Nordman said. “We’re used to feet.”

Organizers were heavily criticized in 2014 when they decided to allow mushers to race through that same section of the trail. Ice and abysmal snow conditions led to injuries and equipment damage.

The Iditarod’s ceremonial start will still take place in Anchorage on the first Saturday in March. After that, teams will head to Fairbanks, where the re-start will take off on Monday the 6th.

Zachariah Hughes reports on city & state politics, arts & culture, drugs, and military affairs in Anchorage and South Central Alaska.

@ZachHughesAK About Zachariah

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