Iditarod sled dog race across Alaska starts with pageant, crowds
CGTN

52 mushers and their dog teams drove through Alaska's largest city in bright sunshine on Saturday to start the 47th Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

Downtown Anchorage was temporarily converted into a noisy dog lot, with trucked-in snow covering the streets. Bundled-up spectators – including dignitaries such as Governor Mike Dunleavy and U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski – gathered to cheer, snap photos and get autographs from the dog drivers headed out on the annual 1,000-mile (1,609-km) trek to Nome.

Saturday's 11-mile run through Anchorage was merely ceremonial, and featured a performance by an Inupiat dance team and other pageantry. Competition begins in earnest on Sunday, when teams take off from a frozen lake in Willow, a community about an hour's drive north from the city.

That gave mushers a chance to relax, mingle with fans and wax poetic about the significance of the Iditarod.

The ceremonial start of the 47th Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage, Alaska, U.S. March 2, 2019. /VCG Photo

The ceremonial start of the 47th Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage, Alaska, U.S. March 2, 2019. /VCG Photo

“It's an amazing one-of-a-kind event that I think everybody should experience,” said four-time champion Lance Mackey.

As for this year's race, “I'm expecting the unexpected,” he said. “I'm expecting soft trail, hard trail, lots of snow, no snow, mountains, flat, open water ice, all the things Alaska has to offer.”

One feature of this year's race is a nearly ice-free section of the Bering Sea. Dramatic winter melt has removed sea ice that the mushers would normally cross on their approach to Nome. Mackey joked about that twist.

“I think I need a pontoon sled. They better not lead us up into the Bering Sea with open water, because I don't have real good swimmers,” he said, motioning at his dogs.

Race managers rerouted the course so it skirts the now-open waters, adding an estimated 30 to 40 miles to the race.

This year's contest of 52 teams, a third of them headed by women mushers, is the smallest since 1989. While the top competitors can rely on corporate sponsors, other would-be racers say the high year-round costs of participating can be an obstacle.

(Cover: Aliy Zirkle and her dogs head out at the ceremonial start of the 47th Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage, Alaska, U.S. March 2, 2019. /VCG Photo)

Source(s): Reuters