WILLOW, Alaska (CN) – Under steady snow showers, 56 dog mushers hit the trail Sunday afternoon for the 48th annual running of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race – dubbed the “last great race on earth.”
Competitors launched from Willow, Alaska, about 50 miles north of Alaska’s largest city of Anchorage on a 1,000-mile trek northwest to the former gold rush city of Nome on the Bering Sea coast.
The route follows the historical gold rush and mail trail, winding its way up and over 3,000-foot mountain passes in the Alaska and Kuskokwim ranges, over rushing rivers and along desolate stretches of Bering Sea ice.
The 2020 running of the world-famous race features domestic competitors from within Alaska, traditionally snowy states of Minnesota and Wisconsin, as well as dog drivers who hail from Georgia, North Carolina, and California. The international field includes five Canadians, three Norwegians, including the 2018 champion Joar Leifseth Ulsom, and one musher each from Denmark and Italy.
In addition to Ulsom, the race features defending champion Pete Kaiser, an Alaska Native musher from Bethel, Alaska, two four-time winners and a three-time champion, all hoping for a repeat win.
In the last decade of racing, the winner pulled their team under the famous burled arch finish line in Nome in about nine days, though Alaska’s record late-season snowfalls along the entire route is expected to slow the race down this year. Race officials describe trail-breaking difficulties, with snow machines and drivers in chest-deep snow.
The race, first run in 1973, began as a way to honor and revive a traditional mode of transportation between remote communities where dog power was rapidly replaced by snow machines in the 1960s. This year’s total prize purse is $500,000, with the expected top prize of $50,000 and a new truck.