Role reversal: Anchorage Iditarod prep means dumping snow on city streets

Willow musher Lisbet Norris prepares for the 2015 Iditarod ceremonial start. (Photo by Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage)

Set up for Saturday’s ceremonial Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race start in Anchorage means dumping thousands of pounds of snow on downtown streets.

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Sled dog teams set off in a festival-like atmosphere on the city’s streets and trails for an 11-mile run that does not count toward their official race time.

Downtown street closures started Friday in Anchorage. Road maintenance crews begin bringing in truckloads of snow this evening and will work overnight smoothing out the downtown portion of the course.

According to Street Maintenance Manager Paul VanLandingham, they need around 250 dumptruck loads of snow — about 5,000 cubic yards — to spread out over city streets.

Anchorage has gotten plenty of suitable snow in the last couple weeks. The crews’ main stash is at city airport Merrill Field, where there’s an abundance of gravel-free snow, VanLandingham said.

“I know a lot of people don’t understand the fact we get all this snow, we spend a couple days removing it, and then we bring in more snow on top of the streets,” VanLandingham said. “But for the dogs and for the event and everything, you really need to bring in good fresh snow for the track to set up right and give the dogs a quality track to run on and just make it a better event.”

It’s a bit of a role reversal. Crews that have been busy around the clock clearing snow off city streets are suddenly dumping it back onto the roadways. But the street maintenance workers enjoy being a part of the Iditarod, VanLandingham said.

“It’s something that breaks up the monotony for the guys and gals doing the work out there,” VanLandingham said. “I mean it’s a big event for the community, for the state, you know, Iditarod, world-famous sled dog race, so it’s exciting for all of us to be a part of the festivities.”

After leaving downtown, mushers head onto city trails groomed by Parks and Recreation Department workers and volunteers from the mushing community.

City streets closed for Iditarod are set to reopen at 7 p.m. Saturday.

Casey Grove is host of Alaska News Nightly, a general assignment reporter and an editor at Alaska Public Media. Reach him at Read more about Casey here

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