Climate change in the Iditarod

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Photo credit: Map courtesy of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources

The restart of the 2017 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race has been confirmed to move to Fairbanks. The Board of Directors on the Iditarod Trail Committee voted to move the restart location from Willow due to poor trail conditions in critical sections in the Alaska Range.

This will be the third time in the 45-year history of the Iditarod that the race has been moved to Fairbanks due to low snow and poor trail conditions. The first move was in 2003, and the second in 2015.

Before making the final decision, the Trail Committee staff and crews monitored trail conditions closely, finding that the Southcentral area saw just enough snowfall, while areas like Rainy Pass and the Dalzell Gorge did not. The final determination for the race restart was made on Feb. 10.

“While some snow did fall east of the Alaska Range over the past couple of weeks, other critical areas along the trail received little snowfall, if any at all, including the trail into Rainy Pass. Additionally, trail conditions leading up to both Ptarmigan Pass and Dalzell Gorge are still considered unsafe at this time for the teams participating in this year’s race,” Mark Nordman, Iditarod Trail Committee Race Director said in a recent press release.

There are 73 teams registered to race in this year’s Iditarod, while more than ten have withdrawn from the race. Last year’s top-ten finishers will also be competing.

Joanne Potts, assistant to the race director, says that moving the race was not an easy decision to be made, while the crew was heavily criticized for moving twice before. The Trail Committee wants to ensure the best possible race every year, even if that involves moving the restart.

“Now that it’s beginning in Fairbanks, the whole race has changed. There are different checkpoints, new routes and mushers have to changes their plans a little bit,” Potts said.

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Despite changes in the race, the ceremonial start in downtown Anchorage is still scheduled to take place on Saturday, March 4, and begin at 10 a.m. The restart will begin in Fairbanks on Monday, March 6 at 10 a.m.