WILLOW, Alaska (CN) – With snow softly falling, 52 dog mushers hit the trail Sunday afternoon for the 47th annual running of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race – dubbed as the “last great race on earth.”
Competitors launched from Willow, Alaska, about 50 miles north of Alaska’s largest city of Anchorage on their 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 2019 running of the world-famous race features domestic and international competitors from within Alaska, traditionally snowy states of Minnesota and Wisconsin as well as dog drivers who hail from Alabama, North Carolina and California. The international field includes four Canadians, two Norwegians including the defending champion Joar Leifseth Olsom, and one musher each from Sweden and France.
In addition to the defending champion, the race features three four-time winners and a three-time champion, all hoping for a repeat win. The winner is expected under the famous burled arch finish line in Nome in about nine days, while the final finisher will cross in about 14 days.
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 being rapidly replaced by snow machines in the 1960s. The total prize purse is $500,000 – about $250,000 less than the 2017 amount – with the expected top prize of $50,000 and a new truck.