At 2018 Finisher’s Banquet, tales from a difficult Iditarod

A trophy of Joe Redington, Sr. — known as the father of the Iditarod — awaits the champion at the finisher’s banquet in Nome. (Photo: David Dodman, KNOM)

The 2018 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race has come to an end, as 52 out of the original 67 mushers have crossed the finish line in Nome.

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Magnus Kaltenborn, originally from Norway, was this year’s Red Lantern, finishing in roughly 12 days and 20 hours, more than three days behind the winner.

According to the Iditarod Trail Committee (ITC), only the top 20 finishers will get a share of the $500,000 in prize money, while the remaining finishers, like Kaltenborn, will receive $1,049 each. This is a change from last year, when the top 30 mushers all received a portion of the $750,000 in prize money. ADN reported that, altogether, the 64 teams that finished the 2017 Iditarod won a total of $748,166. Iditarod chief executive Stan Hooley said in an interview that the race had to cut back on the prize amounts in 2018 so it could rebuild its savings.

“In a number of years, we paid out more prize money than our overall earnings generated, which means that we depleted reserves,” Hooley said. “We’re at the point that we need to make difficult decisions to improve the financial health of the organization.”

Last night, during the 2018 Iditarod awards banquet, this year’s race officially concluded as each finisher collected their winnings and took some time to say their thank you’s.

Although he didn’t finish this year’s Iditarod, veteran musher Scott Janssen was given the sportsmanship award for helping to rescue fellow musher Jim Lanier near the “blowhole” — a stretch of the Iditarod Trail leading into Nome notorious for its unpredictable, often intense winds. Janssen reiterated that all the thanks goes to his dogs.

“They all perked up their ears and looked to the left, and all I saw was the reflectors on the side of Jim’s sled,” Janssen said. “So I knew it was one of my friends, so I yelled out ‘is everything alright?’, and he said, ‘I need help over here.’ I had no idea who it was. I threw my snow hook down, and he yelled ’tip your sled over,’ and when I heard him yell ‘tip your sled over,’ I thought of the storm we had leaving Ophir, and I realized it was Jim. One of my lines is ‘when I grow up, I want to be just like Jim Lanier.’”

Janssen pulled Lanier’s team and sled off of a stump of driftwood, but the dogs did not want to continue on at that point. So, according to Janssen, both mushers made a call for help to Janssen’s wife, and then huddled together as they waited to be rescued. They stayed put for several hours before Jessie Royer, Nome Search and Rescue, and other individuals arrived to transport the two mushers and their teams safely back to Nome. Reportedly, three Iditarod Trail Invitational competitors, including Nome’s Phil Hofstetter, assisted Janssen in calling for help as the veteran musher was unable to dial his phone or GPS device.

From the Nome Recreation Center, last night’s Iditarod finisher’s banquet continued as awards of all kinds were presented to deserving mushers. One went to the community of Shaktoolik, which received the Golden Clipboard award; Aliy Zirkle felt the nod was well deserved.

“You know, we talk to you about Shaktoolik and how miserable or crazy or windy it is. There are people there who it is their home, they love it there, it’s where they lived, their grandparents have lived, their great great grandparents, forever,” Zirkle said. “And they allow us to travel through their towns. Thank you so much for allowing us to travel through your world, because it’s very special to be out there.”

Before adjourning the more than four-hour-long awards banquet, veteran musher Jim Lanier continued his tradition of singing a song, even though he wasn’t a 2018 Iditarod finisher. Lanier says he dedicated this tune to those who didn’t complete the 1,000 miles this year.

“On the trail I’m sad and dreary, everywhere I roam,” Lanier sang. “Oh lordy, Jim Lanier grows weary, far from ye old folks in Nome.”

As the prize money was doled out, 2018 champ Joar Ulsom of Norway received $50,612 for his first place finish of 9 days 12 hours, in addition to his extra prizes. Runner up Nic Petit received $42,462.

2018 finishers’ payouts decrease incrementally with finishing order; 20th-placed Lars Monsen of Norway received $9,662.

Davis Hovey is a news reporter at KNOM - Nome.

Hovey was born and raised in Virginia. He spent most of his childhood in Greene County 20 minutes outside of Charlottesville where University of Virginia is located.

Hovis was drawn in by the opportunity to work for a radio station in a remote, unique place like Nome Alaska. Hovis went to Syracuse University, where he graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Broadcast Digital Journalism.

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