Our 25 favorite photos from the 2023 Iditarod ceremonial start

Two dogs panting and lunging on a harness.
Two Iditarod sled dogs excitedly wait for the ceremonial start to begin in Anchorage on Saturday. (Mizelle Mayo/Alaska Public Media)

Temperatures hovered around zero degrees in Anchorage on Saturday for the ceremonial start of the 51st running of the Iditarod Trail Sled Race.

It was especially cold if you came from Australia five weeks ago, like musher Christian Turner, who was wearing a heavy duty jacket down to his ankles. He called it his “muumuu.”

“It’s basically an Arctic anorak, you can put all your normal clothes underneath it and the anorak goes over the top and keeps everything warm and everything compressed, it’s sorta like wearing a sleeping bag,” he said.

Turner was among 33 mushers and dozens of sled dogs who paraded down 11-miles of sunny city streets and trails, in front of fans and Alaska celebrity guests, like U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who called it a “perfect, beautiful day.”

Though enthusiasm was high, the crowd downtown was a bit smaller than most years. The number of teams is also the smallest in the race’s history, something that has prompted concern among some in the Iditarod community. But mushers said Saturday was just a time to celebrate the sport. 

“There are 33 people who have dedicated their lives to the only 1,000-mile-race that’s happening this year. This is it,” said rookie Bridgett Watkins. “Let’s celebrate that.”

Two dogs pull a sled team
Matt Hall heads toward the starting line on 4th Avenue. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

If it was a bit quiet downtown, the parties alongside Anchorage’s trails were as well-attended as ever. Hundreds gathered at what is known as “Trailgate,” where a DJ played music next to a bar built of snow, as costumed attendees danced and cheered on the dog teams passing nearby.

One of Trailgate’s founders, Zachary Mannix, was grilling hot dogs and marveling at how much the party has grown over the years.

“When we started, it was a few dozen people, maybe 50, 75,” Mannix said. “And, yeah, it’s just, it’s grown exponentially. I think, the last time we had one, we estimated between 500 and 700 people.”

“It’s a great time,” he said. “I do enjoy being with all my friends outside and having a good time. So that’s what this is all about.”

But for other spectators, like 10-year-old Madilynn Paup, Saturday marked their first Iditarod.

Madilynn of Santa Cruz, Calif., did a school project about the Iditarod when she was in first grade. She’s been into it ever since. This year, for an early 10th birthday present, her parents, Chris and Danielle Paup, decided to bring her to Anchorage to watch the start.

The biggest surprise? The large number of dogs.

“The way the teacher made it sound was that there was only a few dogs,” Madilynn said. “But there was, like, a lot of dogs.”

She was excited to collect dog booties that mushers tossed into the crowd Saturday. She said she wanted to bring them home for her cats. She thought one of them, Jet, could probably join a sled dog team.

“Yeah, one of our cats already goes for walks so he should be good soon,” she said.

As Iditarod teams snaked through the crowd, some mushers stopped to chat with fans or even eat hot dogs. Jason Mackey had another way of interacting with the crowd. He reached into his sled bag to show off his goodie bags. 

“There’s probably 20 pounds of filled booties with candy,” he said.

A man holds a small blue dog booty filled with candy
Jason Mackey pulls out dog booties he signed and stuffed with candy that he’ll toss to fans along the trail. “They look forward to this day as much as we look forward to this day,” he said. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

He tossed those signed neon dog booties to kids along the trail.

Fans also passed out drinks to mushers, who sometimes weren’t ready for a cocktail at 10 a.m. Veteran Aaron Peck said he makes exceptions though. 

“I only accept IPA, good quality beer, don’t hand me that light beer stuff. And hot dogs, I’m hungry so if anyone has a hot dog, that’s good,” he said, and laughed.

After the ceremonial start, mushers and their sled dogs will drive about an hour north to Willow for the official race start at 2 p.m. Sunday. 

Knik musher Eric Kelly said he enjoys the time spent with mushing fans before the official race clock starts.

“It’s a great feeling to be in Willow and pull that hook, and be out on the trail. But I love meeting the people. We can’t do it without the fans, so I love to interact and get them as involved as we can.” 

Here are some of our favorite photos from the day:

A crowd of people walk on the streets in the winter.
Mushers, handlers, race volunteers and spectators gather around 4th Avenue Saturday ahead of the ceremonial start. (Mizelle Mayo/Alaska Public Media)
a dog team races down a crowded street
Jason Mackey and his team of dogs mush down Fourth Avenue. (Mizelle Mayo/Alaska Public Media)
A man and a woman in fur jackets
Doug Brandau and Peggie McClure from Illinois traveled to Alaska to watch the Iditarod start. They said they stayed warm in the near zero temperatures in their coyote fur coats with wolf ruffs, lined with beaver fur. “Even though it’s really cold, there’s so much warmth from meeting people all over the world,” said McClure. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)
A woman with a wedding dress pets a dog.
Crystal Gunderson, wearing a wedding dress, rode in Riley Dyche’s sled. Gunderson said she’s getting married Saturday by Iditarod icon DeeDee Jonrowe at Scary Tree, at the confluence of the Yentna and Susitna Rivers along the Iditarod trail. “I’ve always been obsessed with the Iditarod,” she said. (Mizelle Mayo/Alaska Public Media)
Two dogs lung forward on harnesses.
A pair of dogs lunge forward, ready to run through Anchorage. (Mizelle Mayo/Alaska Public Media)
A young girl wears a white bib.
Emily Robinson, the winner of the 2023 Junior Iditarod, talks with Iditarod rookie Eddie Burke Jr. Fifteen-year-old Robinson is from Nenana and has won the Junior Iditarod twice. She drove the first sled during the ceremonial start, honoring four-time champ Lance Mackey who died last year. (Mizelle Mayo/Alaska Public Media)
A man on a sled is being pulled by multiple dogs.
Australian musher, Christian Turner, crosses the starting line at the 2023 Iditarod ceremonial start. (Mizelle Mayo/Alaska Public Media)
a person hand a hot dog to someone outside
Lincoln Garrick hands a hotdog to fellow trailgater Alison Capitan. Lincoln Garrick and Rich Capitan have been grilling hotdogs for their annual trailgate party for about five years. Most years, they hand out hotdogs to mushers as they zoom by, and to anyone else who wants a dog. It started just as an Iditarod viewing party. “And then we were like, ‘Wait a minute! We could eat!'” Capitan recalls. “And then we were like, ‘We can be interactive with the mushers, too! … Yeah, hotdogs and beer.'” This year they passed boxes of Girl Scout cookies to the mushers. The hotdogs weren’t all that hot — they had trouble keeping the propane flowing in the cold — and boxed treats seemed safer with COVID still a factor. (Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)
a crowd of people surround a trail
A crowd cheers on musher Jason Mackey and his dog team near the Cordova Street hill. (Tegan Hanlon/Alaska Public Media)
a kid gets a high five from a musher
Iditarod rookie Gregg Vitello high-fives kids in the crowd near the hill at Cordova Street. A big group of spectators cheered mushers on as they dashed onto city trails. There was music playing, including the iconic “Iditarod Trail Song”, and food grilling. (Tegan Hanlon/Alaska Public Media)
a dog team races down a crowded street
Eric Kelly from Knik mushes across the starting line. (Mizelle Mayo/Alaska Public Media)
a man holds a dog on a harness
Five-time Iditarod winner Dallas Seavey lines up dogs for Kelly Maixner. Seavey is sitting out this year’s Iditarod, and Maixner is running Seavey’s team. (Ben Matheson/Alaska Public Media)
dogs sit on pads
Nic Petit’s dogs rest on pads as they await the Iditarod start. (Ben Matheson/Alaska Public Media)
two women pose in white fur jackets
Linda Jo and Angelina Klapperich, from the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, watch Iditarod mushers from downtown. They’ve been watching the Iditarod start for the past 15 years. The highlight, hands down, was the year Angelina was Miss Alaska and got to go to the finish line in Nome. “It was so exciting, them coming down the finish line in the middle of the night, dark and cold, and they come off frozen and tired, but it’s so exciting,” Angelina said.
A man in a big jacket is interviewed by a tv camera
Christian Turner, an Australian musher running dogs of three-time Iditarod champion Mitch Seavey, is interviewed by an Australian news team that traveled to Alaska to follow Turner’s preparation. “No one in Australia really knows about dog racing, so it’s really cool to have a story on it,” said Turner. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)
A man in an orange coat and a woman with a big furr ruff pose for cameras in front of some buildings
Alaska U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski poses with last year’s Iditarod champion, Brent Sass, before the ceremonial start of the race. Sass told Murkowski that he’s looking forward to his “Iditarod vacation.” (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)
A girl in a purple snow suit holds some dogs in harnesses
Mike Williams Jr.’s kids traveled from Akiak to help see him off at the start of the Iditarod. One of his daughters helps hold his dogs. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)
Two yellow lead dogs in bright pink booties
Slater (right) and his brother Pink are Brent Sass’s lead dogs. 7-year-old Slater led Sass’s team to victory last year. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)
A man in black winter gear pulls his dog down a ramp toward a dog sled
Bethel musher Pete Kaiser pulls his dogs out of his dog truck to harness them. Kaiser originally planned to sit out this year’s Iditarod, but signed up at the last minute because of his strong dog team. Those dogs led him to his seventh Kuskokwim 300 win earlier this year. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)
Five women in red anoraks smile for a photo in front of an Iditarod banner
Fur Rendezvous royalty poses for a photo at the ceremonial start. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)
A crowd of people watch in winter gear
Lisa Murkowski (center in black parka) and Iditarod CEO Rob Urbach (right in red parka) watch the first team take off from downtown. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)
a dog team races down a crowded street
Peter Kaiser and his dog team head for the trail. (Mizelle Mayo/Alaska Public Media)

Alaska Public Media’s Mizelle Mayo, Liz Ruskin, Ben Matheson, Lex Treinen, Casey Grove and Tegan Hanlon contributed to this story.

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