Iditarod route altered due to weather concerns
Mushers and their dogs set off from the "ceremonial" starting point Saturday morning, as crowds cheer on their favorite teams.
March 4th, 2012
10:26 AM ET

Iditarod route altered due to weather concerns

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.

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Filed under: Alaska • Iditarod
soundoff (107 Responses)
  1. Mary

    @ RUFFNUTT (( 1/2 5th level magic-using kender ,1/4 illusionist ,1/4 warrior ))
    And of course you'll be the lead character! 😉 No! scratch that! I see you being a reoccurring character with a Monty Python vein!
    Ruffie being sprinkled through out the film.... coming in and out of "frame" on your dog sled cracking jokes, your dogs attacking you, ect.... hehe 🙂

    How are this afternoon?

    March 4, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • RUFFNUTT (( 1/2 5th level magic-using kender ,1/4 illusionist ,1/4 warrior ))

      GOOD.. it's nice here now,, it was cold in the mourning i almost froze riding my bike... but the ride home should be nice..
      the only thing i can't figure out is why are there so many ded skunks in the road the last 3 weeks... i seen 5 today..
      it might be a sign the end is comming... skunks have a way of knowing things..

      March 4, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      @ RUFFNUTT (( 1/2 5th level magic-using kender ,1/4 illusionist ,1/4 warrior ))
      Do your Wife and kids a favor.... stay away! lol Skunk smell is not a tantilizing smell to say the least.

      March 4, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sir Robin

      You don't have any idea who Monty Python is, do you?

      March 4, 2012 at 11:12 pm | Report abuse |
  2. revac

    this event should be renamed the "IkilledAdog"

    March 4, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
  3. thedude

    Bad weather in Alaska? Isn't this something else Obama could apologize for ???

    March 4, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Lucy Shelton

    This is, again, another of the numerous articles that hype and promote this race, leaving the reader to think there’s nothing wrong with it. This race is exploitation of the sled dogs, and should have ended long ago.

    The Iditarod is a once-a-year race for a group of egoist mushers to win money and bragging rights. The whole scheme of year-round training of the dogs and tethering each dog to his/her own small enclosure is no way to treat loyal companions. Instead, these magnificent dogs are treated like objects,–little machines that are only used for the sole purpose of mushers winning a brutal race.

    I know the dogs love to run, most likely anxious to get off their confining chains, but the fact is that they’re pushed beyond their limits which is cruel and serves no responsible purpose. Dog deaths average nearly 4 a year. About half the dogs don’t finish. They are among the best-conditioned dogs in the world due to their training year-round, yet they are dropped due to injury, illness, exhaustion, or just not wanting to continue. One musher scratched after one of her dogs collapsed while running.

    The distance is too long, and the conditions and rough terrain too grueling for the dogs. There are laws in at least 38 states against over-driving and over-working animals, which is exactly what the Iditarod does. The Alaska cruelty statue that would apply to the sled dogs was changed in 2008 to exempt them.

    When the dogs are not racing or training they are each kept on a short chain, attached to their small enclosure. This is considered inhumane and illegal in many communities, and I find it appalling.

    Animal welfare organizations including The Animal Legal Defense Fund, Friends of Animals, In Defense of Animals, Sled Dog Action Coalition, and Sled Dog Watchdog want this race to end.

    March 4, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      Excellent persuasive post Lucy... Excellent !!!

      March 4, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rudedog

      Working an animal to death is not sport.

      March 4, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      Animal cruelty as we know happens in many areas of society: Animal shelters, American homes, underground pittbull fighting organizations, and yes ... even the Iditarod race.

      More specifically.. the deaths seem to be caused by the treatment received by the mushers and kennel help rather than the race itself.

      That according to the "sled dog action coalition" website. here are some example if your not aware of the kinds of abuse that run rampid

      ~Fed expired food
      ~No shelters
      ~Rarely get vet care
      ~Chained constanly unless in training... which would be 3 times a week

      The list can go on.
      Horrific conditions and actions to animals happens everywhere and we still spend more on our animal here in the US rather than on money to cease these atrosious acts of violence on these helpless beings

      March 4, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • justme

      you all should go to horse races, giddyup horsey? takes a lot more than that to win.

      March 4, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • You don't know ****

      Have you ever been to Alaska- this is a event that goes back a hundred years- the dogs are treated better than most natives- they are the lifeline to the natives- do you not remember how they delivered life saving vaccines- I myself watched the Iditrod and found that dogs were treated with much respect- your conclusion is all wrong! Think again and repost

      March 4, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      @ You don't know ****
      Please expand... give more details... make me understand.
      I went to the "Dog sled action coalition" website which gave many examples of abuse in this race and year around training center.

      March 4, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ted

      You fail to mention that these dogs receive food and medical care above what starving kids in 3rd world countries get.

      These dogs are well cared for and loved. Not everyone wants a lap dog. Sled dogs are sled dogs. You don't kennel sled dogs and you certainly don't keep them where they can attack and kill other dogs.

      March 4, 2012 at 8:11 pm | Report abuse |
  5. chrissy

    lol @ the dude, yes he should, since he has single handedly controlled the tornados, the protests in greece and god knows what else people wanta blame him for. Pretty powerful guy. Obama 20l2

    March 4, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Iditadog

    Beats the heck out of being a housecat. Never taking a bath. Afraid to go outside. Hairballs. Sh/tting in the same old box day after day. Who designed this creature the housecat? Ancient Egyptians?

    March 4, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
  7. corpsman

    No kidding. "The Dude" needs to change his handle to "The Whiner".

    March 4, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Whome

    Must be global warming.

    March 4, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Cinic

    We should just combine the Iditarod with X-mas. Neither refelct what they stand for. Santa's sled could be pulled by a team of dogs, and he already has enough reindeer to feed them for years to come. Maybe even a few elves if that's what it takes to save X-mas. Video game rights. Dogs on your roof. Win win.

    March 4, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Portland tony

    In Googling this particular race, the care of injured or exhausted dogs seems to be a lot better than some would have you believe. Although the race is grueling, these dogs are bred for these events and checked for drugs, injuries, general health by vets many times during the race. Besides an injured dog just slows down the team because the racer has to carry the dog in the sled to safety . So their is no incentive to overwork the dogs. The Alaskan sport of shooting wild animals from planes and helicopters is probably a little more inhumane.

    March 4, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Luver

    Toooo Bad you people don't know dog, up on your high and mighty soap box. These dogs live for outdoor times like this.
    The crime here is someone in Florida having a Siberian Husky as a pet. THAT IS A CRIME!!!!

    March 4, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Superman

    @loose lucy shelton,,,,,,,,, if your only transportation out of the mountains was by these dogs would your attitude change? I probably would, but than you would say i would never be there in the first place and so on. But you arm chair and manipulate others to read your blogs! You would be the likely one to change your out look on this race if your having an heart attack or something, si let these people run these dogs! The indegenous people of alaska have been doing it for a 100+ years so blame them ok?

    March 4, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Bloodsportfan

    It's ok to beat a human to permanent brain damage though? "Heddo. Myba nameba be Muhamadba What? OK. Who?" Football concusions. NASCAR all bunched together crashing. UFC fighters/Pro wrestler (fake wresting? reallu? holy crap!) Iditarod is animal worship compared to what we put humans through.

    March 4, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • rob

      The difference, which is obvious after about a second of thought, is that humans have the choice as to whether they want to participate in those events. Dogs are not given such a choice. It's called informed consent, and animals and minors can't give it.

      Let me turn it around on you. How many races across a thousand miles are there involving humans tied to harnesses pulling sleds? Oh, none you say? You mean no human is willing to endure that? Guess that's what happens when someone is given a choice.

      March 4, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Street warrior

    @Loose lucy, would ride that dog sled if she need immediate medical care; would you not?that would be an immediate attitude changer, would it not?

    March 4, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Street warrior

    @blood sport fan, we are tired of LUCY AND MARY. These people are narrow minded to say the least

    March 4, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      Why do you constantly focus on us! why are we always the focus of your attention?

      March 4, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Who's LUCY?

      March 4, 2012 at 7:24 pm | Report abuse |
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