Aklestad/Olstad win Iron Dog, Miller brothers place fourth
By Megan Gannon
After a 2,500-mile race marked by tough conditions and brutal weather, the pro snowmachine racers competing in this year’s Iron Dog made it to the finish line in Big Lake under a blue sky on Saturday, Feb. 25.
Tyler Aklestad and Nick Olstad of Team 7 arrived just after 12 p.m. on Saturday on their Ski-Doo sleds, winning their third Iron Dog since they became race partners in 2020. Their final course time was 52 hours, 58 minutes and 32 seconds. The win marks Aklestad’s fourth victory and Olstad’s sixth. During the awards ceremony on Sunday, they picked up an $80,000 cash prize from the $200,000 purse.
“It’s changed so much in the last five years, the commitment that it takes to be up here,” Aklestad said on stage as he thanked his racing partner and his family.
Aklestad and Olstad finished 36 minutes ahead of the second-place racers, Casey Boylan and Brian Leslie of Team 14. Team 39’s Cody Barber and Brett Lapham trailed an additional 23 minutes, placing third. Those top three teams had similar gaps between them when they stopped for a long halfway layover in Nome last week. They maintained their pace through the final 1,000 miles of the trip all while facing stormy conditions.
Fourth place for the Millers of Nome
“Leaving Nome was pretty challenging,” said Jordan Miller of Nome. He and his brother Jarvis ultimately finished in fourth place, claiming a $15,000 cash prize with a course time of 59 hours, 59 minutes and 29 seconds. They placed seventh in last year’s race and also attempted the Iron Dog together in 2021 but had to scratch at Puntilla.
The snowmachiners had a wrench day in Nome last Tuesday and left early Wednesday morning just as a blizzard warning was coming into effect for the region.
“From the minute that we left Nome until we left McGrath, it was snowing or blowing or both,” Jordan Miller told the Nugget. “The Yukon got 18 to 24 inches of fresh snow since we last came through there, and it was just an unbroken trail. Everyone was kind of hesitant about going first because they didn’t want to lose any course time to the guys that were coming behind them by breaking trail. So it was just slow and steady and trying to protect the iron and not trying to break things. The trail was just rough. It’s the worst that I’ve seen. I’ve heard from multiple racers that this was the worst. But it seems like every year, they say, ‘This is the worst.’”
Miller also recounted that there was a lot of water on the trail, especially between the Koyuk and Elim area. He also said he got stuck in a creek for quite some time between Poorman and Ophir. He credited Team 39 for jumping in the waist-deep water with him and his brother without hesitation to help get the snowmachine out. “If it was colder, it definitely would have been a problem,” Miller said.
During the halfway banquet in Nome last Tuesday, the Millers picked up a $3,000 prize for having the “fastest split time between White Mountain and Nome.”
Iron Dog’s executive director Mike Vasser joked that the locals must have known a short cut. Really, they just waited until nightfall to beat the foggy conditions, falling snow and flat light that plagued other racers that day. Miller said that after they left Kotzebue and got to Koyuk on their way to Nome, Jarvis’ center shock blew out. As they were working on it, they noticed that the other racers on the GPS-tracker were slowing down.
“We just held off until dark and extended our layover and left at night,” Miller said. “Snow doesn’t really affect you as bad at night. So you can pick up a little bit of speed.”
By the time they got to the finish line in Big Lake, they were relieved to see the sun and happy to be in the top five. (The brothers were also tired and skipped the after-party in favor of sleep.)
“We learned a lot, and each year that we do this, we’re putting more tricks in our pocket,” Miller said. “In this race, all it could take is one bolt or one tip-over for you to scratch so you don’t really expect anything. You just hope for the best and do what you can to keep on moving. As long as you’re moving, you’re going to be doing OK.”
Of the 25 teams that started the race, 10 scratched by the time the Iron Dog got to Nome, including Mike Morgan of Nome and his teammate Chris Olds, who were the winners in 2018 and 2019. They had to drop out after Morgan suffered a wipeout that damaged his machine. But everyone who made it to Nome finished the race. Cody Moen of Nome and his teammate Chad Gueco finished in ninth place.