Anchorage, Alaska (CNN) - Despite near record snowfall, the 40th running of the Iditarod sled dog race kicked off in Anchorage on Saturday. However, only hours after the ceremonial start of the race, Iditarod officials announced the trail's course was being altered due to worsening weather conditions.
Sixty-six mushers entered this year's race, a true test of human and canine endurance. The contest requires each musher and dog sled team to traverse almost 1,000 miles across Alaska's notorious winter terrain – between Anchorage and Nome on the Bering Sea coast.
This year, Anchorage has already doubled its usual snowfall with approximately 120 inches – 10 feet of snow – and is approaching the near 133-inch record set in 1954. The deep snow could be a major factor in the Iditarod, as weather conditions affect the dogs' physical performance and increase the threat of dangerous moose encounters on the trail. Several Iditarod mushers have already reported run-ins with winter-weary moose during training runs through interior Alaska.
Behind the scenes at the Iditarod
Hours after Saturday morning's ceremonial start, race director Mark Nordman announced trail breakers had become more concerned over a previously planned reroute in a critical part of the 2012 trail. Citing high wind and new snow totals, Nordman broke last-minute news of the change to mushers and fans.
"As trail conditions are constantly affected by changes in weather," the Iditarod Trail Committee "will consistently evaluate available options with the goal of providing the best possible trail," said Nordman – meaning the dangerous, highly feared and ironically named "Happy Steps" would officially be back in the 2012 race route.
Veteran musher and 2012 Yukon Quest champion Hugh Neff of Tok, Alaska, is no stranger to harsh trail conditions: He lost one of his own race dogs to overflow ice and suffered severe frostbite during previous competitions. "You really have to respect Mother Nature, and Lord knows, she’s been beating up on me over the years. So, we just have got to take care of the dogs and keep an even keel," Neff said.
Four-time Iditarod champions Lance Mackey and Martin Buser are both chasing after a fifth Iditarod win this year, and each remains optimistic in the face of challenging weather forecasts. "Expect the worst. Hope for the best. The outcome remains to be seen," said Mackey, who recognizes there will inevitably be challenges. "You've got to deal with it as it’s presented to you. Of course we have concerns."
Martin Buser, who was born in Switzerland but now resides in Big Lake, Alaska, is looking forward to sizing up this year's Iditarod field in the coming days along the trail. "This is going to be a very special race. We have a lot of competitive teams in the race and a lot of dark horses," said Buser, who proudly predicts he will be the first musher to arrive at the burled arch on Nome's famous Front Street.
The reigning Iditarod champion, Kotzebue musher John Baker, set a new Iditarod record last year – arriving in Nome in only 8 days, 22 hours, 46 minutes and 2 seconds. Baker's 2011 record-setting pace took place in far more ideal trail conditions, mushers point out, and they say it's not likely Baker's impressive accomplishment will be beaten in 2012.
Those kinds of predictions, however, fail to dampen the spirit of the always confident Neff. "I’m not worried about trying to do well. I expect to do well," said Neff. "Some folks down south think we hide when the weather gets bad up north. But when the weather gets rough, that’s when a lot of us animals really like to come out and play and show others what we are really about inside, and so I look forward to the challenge," he added with a wry smile.
Neff is not alone in that challenge. Sixty-five others will be confidently competing against him as teams depart the race "chute" on Willow Lake on Sunday afternoon. Once the official Iditarod race clock begins, only one thing is certain. It's a long, treacherous and punishing ride to Nome – with or without Mother Nature's cruel winter fury.
the reason for the derversion was that there is a fire hydrant factory in the middle of the route..
Good one RUFF.
Go preach elsewhere.
@banasy, good to know that he does that. I know exactly who you mean. How pathetic to have to feel the need to change the u-n so many times.
Does anybody in the lower 48 care about a dog race way up north? Michael Vick went to jail for mistreating dogs so what's the OK with this race?
Yes. It is a very exciting sport.
they should spare those poor dogs and use cats instead,,,
a cat-sled race would be way better..
May the cat gods pee upon your camaro for that one.
Ruffnutt has a Firebird, not a Camaro. Cats would be so much better then dogs.
Yeah, but you know how finicky we can get. If we don't want to pull the sled, you know we won't. And if you try beating us for it, you'll never again have a restful nights sleep again.
@RUFFNUT, never cats. Felines do exactly what they want and we humans that have them are owned by them!!
Ruffie also has a camaro.
Along with a Three Wolves t-shirt.
@Margery..get a clue would you? more dogs suffer and die through neglect in a New York City Animal shelter in one day than die on the Iditarod. The Insane Society is just that, insane when they think they know what they speak of.
Doug your argument doesn't make any sense. Are you saying that abuse through neglect justifies or negates abuse through Iditarod? Does that mean as long as somewhere else in the world, someone is doing something worse than I am, it's ok for me to do it?
"Strength is knowledge, that's why I read." So he's reading a children's book about a cat.
Yukon Quest is a harder dog race with less check points higher passes and some times colder temps. Not to be mis understood they are both hard races Quest was just a harder race.
@hey stupid, micheal vick was fighting dogs, this is not pit fighting, do you understand now? None of your arm chair people who preach and practice only 3 things in life ,and that is three things , all you type of people believe in is EAT, WORK ,& SLEEP, and thats what causes you to scorne the passions of other, and a tradition of state so good luck! But a majority of people would rather see this race continue, than have some controling ,and hagging entity try to discontinue such a good race, the handlers take more abuse than those dogs, plus the dogs are geneticaly set up for the conditions. So your complaining about what? Its easy to see that you changed your name from the last iditerod blogg have a good
This is a race! All risks exceptable! The handlers are far worse off than the gog teams, which are 24/7 acclimated to the conditions. Plus michael vick was pitting dogs dogs, racing dogs is not illegal . How about racing greyhounds is that illegal? please dont arm chair preach to us out door enthusiasts
Greyhounds aren't expected to drag some human behind them whose only contribution is cracking a whip. Just cause you call yourself an out door enthusiast doesn't mean you recognize the difference between cruelty and sport.
Any "sport" where death of the participants is routine and expected is one that inherently borders on cruelty, when the participants are given no choice. In antiquity, the gladiator pit was considered sporting, yet the _slaves_ sent to their death against better equipped and skilled opponents probably didn't consider it very sporting. I'm not sure what the difference here is, aside from these dogs not being humans.
There once was a turtle rolled over by a couple of hares. So the turtle police were called. When they got there they asked the little turtle who he thought that it was that beat him up. He responded, you know I'm not really sure, "it all happened so fast".
I wonder when PETA will start a sit-in protest in the middle of the trail?
-This Just In-
Idiot route altered due to weather concerns
Leave my peekapoo alone...
According to "Sled Dog Action Coalition" there have been 142 deaths since 1997.
Also, there is no Official record kept for deaths from the Iditarod race. Further more, No human has ever died from this race. Ever!
Logic would say, that these races are not in the business of purposely putting animals to death.
@MARY... MAYBE THEY CAN make a new "all sleddogs goto heaven" movie...
they can never prove that any sled dogs died.... they are just like big-foot... they eat their dead..
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