This is my first time experiencing the Iditarod in any sense. I have read about it and seen the occasional dog mushing picture over the years, but I honestly had no idea what it is all about. I figured I couldn’t be the only one to have questions about this 1,000 mile dog mushing race. Yep, One Thousand Miles! What questions do you have for me to add into A Newbies Guide to the Iditarod? Here are some of the ones I had and others that were asked on Facebook for The Last Great Race.
How much money is on the line to win the Iditarod?
First place takes home a cool $70,000 in 2015, whereas in 2014 it was $50,400. The total payout for all finishers is $725,100. Here is the breakout for the Top 18.
2015 Iditarod Prize Pool
How much do the sled dogs eat while racing the Iditarod and how do they get it?
This is different based on the dog and the kennel. Most dogs need a minimum of 10,000 calories per day during the Iditarod. The maximum recorded was 30,000 calories! They eat premium kibble which has higher levels of protein and fat for these endurance athletes. Snacks typically consist of meat and fish. Before the race, the mushers have prepared the dog’s food and there are food drops at the checkpoints along the Iditarod Trail by the Iditarod Air Force.
How many mushers have finished the Iditarod?
After the 2014 Iditarod finish, 731 mushers have crossed the finish line.
How long of a race is the Iditarod?
There are two routes typically used. The Southern Route is 998 miles and the Northern Route is 975 miles. In 2015 there is a completely new route being used because of the lack of snowfall in Anchorage and the central part of Alaska. This new route leaves Fairbanks and heads to Nome, Alaska and is 979 miles.
2015 Iditarod Checkpoints
The mileage isn’t exact because it can’t account for twists and turns, plus all the elevation changes on the trail. Depending on weather conditions at the time, the trail is marked differently year to year. Because of this, the Iditarod Trail Committee (ITC) says it is 1,049 miles, which breaks down to 1,000 miles of the race and 49 to pay homage to Alaska as the 49th state.
What is the Iditarod Air Force?
The Iditarod Air Force are small privately owned bush planes flown entirely by volunteers during the course of the Iditarod. They fly dog food, musher’s supplies, and just about anything else needed to each checkpoint. They are the primary way that the vets and race officials get moved up and down the trail. If a dog gets dropped out of the race for whatever reason, the Iditarod Air Force and vet team is there to pick up the tired pooch!
Speaking of vets, how are the dogs cared for during the race?
Each musher can start with a maximum of 16 dogs down to a minimum of 12 dogs, and can finish with as few as 6 dogs. They stop usually every hour to give the dogs snacks and water. If a water source isn’t readily available, they have equipment to heat up snow and melt it into water.
There are vets located throughout the course and at every checkpoint. There are 52 veterinarians for the 2015 race that came in from all over the US and from other countries to volunteer. They go through a lot of dog care training, but also need to learn to take care of themselves out in the freezing cold weather.
Before the Iditarod, each dog must be checked over by a vet. They are all microchipped, receive an ECG, and an overall physical exam 48 hours before the start of the race. Each year 1-3 dogs flunk out of the race because of their ECG results!
Checkpoints in the earlier part of the race are very busy and packed and there are many more vets stationed there.
The ITC provides straw for all the teams while on the course. Mushers will pull into a checkpoint and bed the dogs down to rest. Most mushers will have blankets to put over the dogs to give them a timeout from all the eyes of tourists and media. The dogs get a physical exam once they have been bedded down. As mushers are cooking dinner for them and the dogs is when the vets go through and checkout the dogs.
The Vets are checking each sled dog for HAWL:
H – Heart and hydration
A – Appetite and attitude
W – Weight
L – Lungs
Is there a trail the mushers are following or do they have to figure out how to get to Nome all on their own?
There are trail breakers that ride on snow machines that are running in front of the lead sled dogs. They cut and mark the trail, packing it down in windswept areas, which gives the dog teams a safe path to run on.
Is there anything specific each dog sled team must have?
Yes! The ITC has set out certain pieces of equipment that each team must have to stay on the course. This includes an arctic parka, a heavy sleeping bag, an ax, snowshoes, musher food, dog food, and dog booties for each pup’s feet to protect them against cutting ice and hard-packed snow injuries.
2015 Iditarod Ceremonial Start – Matt Failor
How many Iditarod teams are there and where do they come from?
There are 79 mushers on the course for the 2015 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. This includes 21 rookies and 59 veterans. Most mushers are from Alaska, and these states are also represented: California, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, and Washington. There are 7 countries in the race –Australia, Canada, France, Norway, Sweden, United States, and New Zealand. The record number of mushers starting the race was 96 in 2008.
2015 Iditarod Ceremonial Start with Aliy Zurkle
Let’s talk about the Mushers for a moment. Have any cool tidbits about them?
- The youngest musher in 2015 is Benjamin Harper who is just 18! Two mushers are 60 in 2015, being the oldest: Marcelle Fressineau and Chuck Schaeffer.
- Now the youngest musher to ever compete was Dallas Seavey who had just turned 18 days before the 2005 Iditarod. Dallas was also the youngest ever to win the Iditarod in 2012 at only 25 years old.
- The oldest musher to win was Mitch Seavey (Dallas’ father) at 53 in 2013. The oldest musher to ever compete is Col. Norman D. Vaughan who last competed in 1992 at 86.
- Rick Swenson is the only five time winner, the only musher to win in three decades, and only musher to complete 35 of 42 Iditarods.
- Susan Butcher, Martin Buser, Doug Swingley, Jeff King and Lance Mackey have each won four Iditarod championships. Mackey is the only musher to have won four consecutive races with Butcher and Swingley both winning three consecutive races.
- Dick Mackey, Rick Mackey & Lance Mackey (father and two sons) have won the Iditarod. All three won wearing bib #13 in their sixth race. WOW!
- Lance Mackey is the first 4 time Iditarod Champion to win all four races consecutively in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010. He also won the Yukon Quest in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008, making him the first musher to win both of Alaska’s premier long distance races back to back in 2007 and 2008 within weeks of each other. He considers 2015 his comeback here and is out to prove that cancer can’t keep you down!
- Mary Shields was the first woman to complete the race in 1974, finishing 23rd.
- Libby Riddles was the first woman to win the Iditarod in 1985.
- Four-time winner, Susan Butcher, claimed Iditarod victories in 1986, 1987, 1988, and again in 1990.
- Doug Swingley became the second four-time winner in 2001. His victories were in 1995, 1999, 2000 and 2001. Butcher and Swingley have the distinction of being the only Iditarod champions who have three consecutive victories.
- I have to mention 61-year-old DeeDee Jonrowe, a cancer survivor who is racing in her 34th Iditarod! WOW! She’s finished in the top ten 16 times, most recently in 2013, and has finished second twice. Thanks Ole Eckhorn for that info!
Check out these books and movie about the Iditarod and sled dogs:
*Information for this post came from attending Iditarod media briefings, talking to fellow fans, and from the official Iditarod website.