Iditarod 45 is underway
Seventy-two mushers from Alaska, the Lower 48, Canada, the Czech Republic, France, England, Sweden and Norway are on their way to Nome, making their way westward on the Yukon, which reportedly received a lot of snow in recent snowstorms.
As the Iditarod mushers spread out their ganglines and prepared their 12-dog teams for the ceremonial start in Anchorage on Saturday, March 4, conditions could not have been better. With ample snowfall in Anchorage, the 11-mile trail from 4th Avenue to Campbell Creek was perfectly groomed, firmed up by cold temperatures. The sun and blue skies provided picture-perfect weather as mushers smiled into the cameras. Thousands of Iditarod fans lined the streets to witness the ceremonial ritual that is the hallmark of Alaskan wilderness lore and celebrates the state sport of mushing.
The avenue rang with the excited barks of more than 900 dogs, itching to get on the trail. This year’s honorary musher was former Nome mayor and longtime Nome Iditarod checker Leo Rasmussen. He rode in the Junior Iditarod Champion Andrew Nolan’s sled with bib number 1.
Going out with bib no. 2 was the first of three Redington teams, Ryan Redington who had his mother Barbara Redington, originally of Unalakleet, on his tag sled. Ryan’s brothers Robert and Ray Redington Jr. also participate in the race.
Nome-grown mushers Melissa Stewart (formerly Owens) and Noah Burmeister are also in the mix. Stewart, the daughter of Nome’s Mike and Pam Owens, said it’s going to be an “adventure”. She said she has not done this particular route. The Iditarod Trail Committee decided last month to reroute the trail again to start from Fairbanks, along the Yukon, to Huslia, Koyukuk and back onto the Yukon to Nulato, Kaltag and onto the Bering Sea coast. At the time of the decision, Race Marshal Mark Nordman explained to the Nugget, trail conditions in the Alaska Range and beyond were not safe for mushers and dogs. Hence the decision to move the start to Fairbanks and use the 2015 route when conditions were similarly dismal in the Alaska Range. “It sounds like it’s going to be cold and lots of snow,” Melissa Owens said. Lots of clothing and the right clothing, she said. She said she’s looking forward to the new trail.
Stewart is an Iditarod veteran and finished last year’s race in 49th position. She said her kennel started training 32 dogs this fall and of those 17 are now ready to be in her team. “They’re looking good, I got 8 of the 9 finishers back from last year,” she said.
Another Nomeite and son of a prominent mushing family is Noah Burmeister. He is driving the A team out of Wildstyle Racing Kennel, operated by him, his brother Aaron Burmeister and kennel partner Tony Browning. Noah, besides wanting to win the Iditarod, has another motivation to get to Nome fast: a budding young love interest awaits him here in his hometown. Fitting for an Iditarod musher from a deeply involved Iditarod family, Noah’s romance has an Iditarod twist. “Last year her mom was my Idita-Rider and she came back and forth to check on her mom, and we started talking and after the race we started talking more and she came up to visit and we started hanging out and ...” explained Noah Burmeister. Miller than completed the story saying that she is from Austin, Texas, that she moved to Alaska in August and that they got engaged in July. “And now I’m an Alaskan!” she said laughing.
Burmeister, who trains out of the Wildstyle Racing Kennel in Nenana said the trail is going to be deep and slow. “Right now, there is no trail. We got more snow up there in the last 12 days than we had in the last 24 years,” Burmeister said. “Iditarod will be breaking trail with their superwides.”
Burmeister said he has a lot of veterans in his team from last year’s Iditarod and a couple of two-year olds. “I got a solid group of dogs,” he said.
Race marshal Nordman predicted that the first days of the race will be telling. “With the amount of snow, it’s going to be areal slog from Fairbanks to Ruby and that will make or break the race this year,” he said. “There is four feet of snow up there. Those first couple, three days are going to set the tone of this race.” As of the quality of the field, he said. “I got 20 people who think they’re gonna win.”
Depending on how slow the trail on the Yukon proves to be, the winner is expected to reach Nome sometime late Tuesday or early Wednesday morning.