NOME, Alaska (CN) – Age won out in the final leg of the 1,000-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday afternoon as Mitch Seavey crossed first under the famed burled arch on Nome’s Front Street nearly three hours ahead of his son – last year’s winner and three-time race champion, Dallas Seavey.
“Fifty-seven used to be old, and it’s not anymore. I’m just letting you know that,” the elder Seavey said a post-race press conference.
Greeted by fans, one of them with a sign proclaiming, “Old guys rule!” Mitch Seavey crossed the finish line with 11 dogs in harness at 3:40 p.m. after eight days, three hours and 40 minutes. He beat his own record as the oldest race champion, which he set with his second win in 2013 at age 53. His first of three wins was in 2004.
Mitch also crushed the time record set by his son Dallas by eight hours. The younger Seavey crossed the finish line in 2016 with six dogs in harness at 2:20 a.m., after eight days, 11 hours, 20 minutes and 16 seconds.
In comparison, the first Iditarod race in 1973 took just over 20 days.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Mitch said, referring to his team’s speed, after giving each dog a snack and telling them “good dogs.”
This year’s race started in Fairbanks for only the third time in its 45-year history. The first two times were due to lack of snow near the re-start in Willow. This year, low or no snow over parts of the rough terrain in the Alaska Mountain Range prompted the move.
The route from Fairbanks in Interior Alaska features less elevation changes for a more straightforward run on frozen rivers. But it also features more grueling temperatures of 40 to 50 degrees below zero at the outset that has mushers dealing with the effects of frostbite on hands, face and feet for a good portion of the race.
“I’m not sure whether it’s slower to go a couple hundred miles on the Yukon at 50 below or take a little hop over the Alaska Range,” Mitch commented at the press conference.
Overall though, this year’s racers saw clear skies and no serious storms – leading the top four mushers to beat 2016’s winning time. Second-place Dallas finished just five minutes ahead of the third-place finisher, Nicolas Petit, 37, of Girdwood, Alaska.
The Seaveys and many of the top teams averaged 10 mph between checkpoints. Mitch told reporters he had trained year-round at that pace when trail conditions allowed, so his dogs were conditioned for speed.
Joar Leifseth Ulsom, a 29-year-old from Norway, finished fourth as the highest non-U.S. finisher, followed by Jessie Royer, 40, of Montana – the highest-finishing woman in 2017. Royer finished with all 16 dogs in harness, and is the only musher to have a top-five finish with a full dog team.
In 45 years, only six teams have finished with the entire team they started with.
The Seaveys are used to breaking Iditarod records. Dallas was the youngest racer to win at age 25 in 2012, and now father Mitch holds both the oldest and fastest-finishing winner monikers. With this year’s finish, the Seavey name will have been etched on six championship trophies in a row.
Mitch’s win earns him $75,000 in prize money and his pick of a new Dodge vehicle.
The elder Seavey ran his first Iditarod at age 22, and is a second-generation dog musher whose father Dan, 79, helped found the race in 1973. Dan ran in the first two races and continues to advocate for the historic Iditarod Trail. He met his son, and soon after his grandson, at the finish line.
Teams start with a maximum of 16 dogs in harness and must finish with at least five. With a Fairbanks restart, there are 18 checkpoints along the way where mushers stop, feed themselves and their dogs, and rest. Race veterinarians check each dog at the checkpoints too, and if a dog is not feeling or eating well, running slower or has an injury, they are dropped from the race. Volunteers take care of the sick dogs until they are returned to their home kennel.
While the 2017 winner is set, 13 others have crossed under the burled arch so far and 53 were still making their way to Nome as of press time. Racers will trickle in over the course of this week, until the finisher’s banquet Sunday.
Five racers have so far “scratched,” calling an early end to their race due to their own personal injuries on the trail, dog illness or lack of enthusiasm.