Everything you Ever Wanted to Know About the Iditarod

Known to few, loved by many, the Iditarod is a world-famous Trail Sled Dog Race that dates back to 1973. With a long and somewhat controversial history, it has also coined the nickname ‘The Last Great Race on Earth®’.

A brief history of the Iditarod

Over the years, the Iditarod has attracted a large following for a nearly 1,000-mile endurance race from Anchorage in East Alaska, to Nome in the North west. In today’s world, this would take over an hour and half by plane.

The trial route was originally formed by Native Americans, who used it for travel and hunting. When gold was discovered Iditarod in the late 1900s, the route also served as a way of supplying miners and settlements with supplies delivered by a team of trained dogs; one of its many uses.

The founder

The event can largely be credited to a man called Joe Redington. The Alaskan spent much of his time using dog teams in his work, and valued and respected their unique contribution.

It was around this time that snow machines were starting to replace the role of the humble serving dog. Something that Redington was unhappy about, as he felt they were unreliable and could leave you stranded; something a canine would never do.

Determined to celebrate the hard work of the dog, and showcase their talent, coupled with his appreciation for the Iditarod Trail, he thought up a new concept and The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race was born!

Joe’s dedication to the cause resulted in a legion of volunteers helping out (still to this day) and a memorable first race, won by Dick Wilmarth, taking a mammoth 20 days, 49 minutes and 41 seconds.

Animal Welfare

No stranger to controversy, some have argued that the endurance required by dogs, and the injuries and illness they sustain makes it unorthodox. Accordingly, half the dogs that take part do not make it past the finishing line.

This has led to stringent guidelines put in place from the Iditarod Trail Committee, who pride themselves on great efforts to support animal welfare. This starts with an ECG check and evaluation of the dogs, 30 days ahead of schedule, along with microchipping of them, so they can be tracked. Inhumane treatment goes against the very core of its ethos and any musher found compromising this is instantly removed from the event.

Taking Part

Each musher has his or her own strategy for preserving energy and surviving difficult terrains – day and night.

Conditions are treacherous to say the least, with many sub-zero extremes and total blackout during evening hours. Each team is made of 12-16 canines and its musher, who need to cover around 975 miles in 9-17 days.

There are also race rules that mushers must abide by and specific pieces of equipment each team must have in case of injury or challenging situations; such as snowshoes, musher food and an arctic parka.

Dedication is key to this, with mushers spending a year getting ready and raising money to take part. However, winners are handsomely paid with a $50,612 prize purse for first place and a further $33,560 divided between the 19 finalists.

Notable winners

The most famous winner must be Rick Swenson from Two Rivers, Alaska who won the race five times. While Joe May in Trapper creek set a new world record in 1980 for the fastest time.