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Brief History of Alaska’s Iditarod

by Erich Martin

Mar 17, 2020

Iditarod, Alaska. Photo: Jason Neuswanger | Dreamstime.com

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The Iditarod is one of those topics everyone is sort of familiar with, but unless you’re a major fan or dogsledder yourself, there is a good chance your understanding ends with knowing the race is a major event where dogsledders ride for hundreds of miles through treacherous terrain.

The race kicks off in Anchorage and goes north to Nome. This year, the race began March 7 with 57 confirmed mushers. For families who don’t mind watching the festivities from afar, the race offers a live stream on its website for subscribers. Each year, the race changes routes to an alternate course to give the towns on the path a break.

The Iditarod trail has been a significant course for as long as dogsleds traversed Alaska. The actual Iditarod race began in its earliest form in the late 1960s, when a centennial committee was looking for additional ways to commemorate 100 years of Alaska belonging to the United States. In the early years, nearly all east-west travel was conducted along the Iditarod trail, including transporting mail, goods and people.

That year’s race was 56 miles and incorporated nine miles of the original Iditarod trail. After two races, 1967 and 1969, public interest died off. In 1973, three visionary mushers who never lost the spirit of the race ran from Anchorage all the way to Nome. According to the Iditarod’s official website, the U.S. Army helped clear the trail for the mushers.

The race’s main purposes, according to Joe Reddington, who organized and ran the first race, included the preservation of sled dog culture and the preservation of the actual Iditarod trail. At the time, snowmobiles were making dogs obsolete in their transportation role.

The race’s route is a reconstruction of a freight route and it celebrates the role sled dogs have played in Alaska throughout history.

Now, more than 55 mushers now participate in the race, and it continues to attract attention from film crews and journalists interested in telling the race’s story.

Read a full history on the Iditarod website.

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