NOME, Alaska (CN) – Native drumming, singing and dancing greeted Peter Kaiser in the wee hours of Wednesday as he crossed under the burled arch marking the finish line of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race – becoming the first Yupi’k Alaska Native in the 47-year history of the race to take first place.
Kaiser, 31, from Bethel, Alaska, claimed the top prize of $50,000 and a truck in the world famous sled dog race with eight dogs in harness out of 14 starters. Joar Liefseth Ulsom, the 2018 champion followed Kaiser down Nome’s Front Street just 12 minutes later to claim second place.
Hundreds of family, friends and fans boarded flights to Nome from Bethel, also in western Alaska, when it appeared Kaiser was in the lead going through the last few race checkpoints.
“The rural areas is where mushing started,” Kaiser told reporters at the finish line. “You know, it’s hard to do it out there but there’s organizations that are helping out in rural Alaska to help make this a big deal. We hope to see other people coming up and continuing this.”
Kaiser and his team pulled into Nome, where the temperature was 25 degrees and snow fell softly, in 9 days, 12 hours, 39 minutes and 6 seconds on the trail. Most of the race took place in temperatures in the 30s, far warmer than winters past. Parts of the normal race routes were altered due to open water on traditionally frozen river pathways.
When ask how his team had faired with the warmer temperatures, Kaiser said they did well.
“My dogs have been training all season in Bethel at 35 degrees so they’re used to it,” he said.
Kaiser said he too was enjoying the warmth, noting it was the first Iditarod he’d gone almost the whole race without wearing heavy gloves and had not used the fur hat he’d brought once.
“I’ve been wearing a baseball cap the whole way,” he said.
Of the 52 teams that started the race on March 3, 10 have “scratched” so far, calling an early end to their race due to personal injuries on the trail, dog illness or lack of enthusiasm. Racers will trickle in over the course of this week until the finisher’s banquet Sunday and the red lantern is doused to signify the last musher is off the trail.