A lack of snow has forced the Iditarod dog sled race to relocate its traditional start on Monday from Anchorage to Fairbanks, for the second time in the history of the event.
A stalled jet stream pushed Arctic air and snow into the U.S. Midwest and the East Coast, but kept Alaska fairly warm and dry this winter, especially south of the Alaska Range where the Iditarod was due to begin. Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, received only about a third of its normal winter snowfall, making for treacherous trail conditions and forcing race officials to make the course adjustment.
On Saturday, snow was trucked into Anchorage for the ceremonial start, which is a show for fans who can't make it to the actual race’s rugged thousand-mile trail that will stretch from Fairbanks to Nome this year.
City crews overnight delivered up to 350 dump truck loads of snow and spread it out over city blocks so the show could go on. City maintenance workers stockpiled snow from neighborhoods the past few months and kept it for winter events, culminating with the Iditarod, said Paul VanLandingham with the public works department.
The festivities started Saturday morning in very un-Iditarod-like conditions — almost 40 degrees with a light rain falling before the start.
Mushers took off from the start line along Anchorage's Fourth Avenue every two minutes. Fans lined the streets and cheered on the mushers and their Iditariders, who are people who have won auctions to be in the sled. The route covered 19 city blocks before it met up with the city's trail system and ended in East Anchorage.
This year's Iditarod includes 78 mushers, including six former champions and 20 rookies. The winner will receive a $70,000 purse, $19,600 more than what defending champion Dallas Seavey earned last year.
The Iditarod routes follow a historic trail that mushers used to deliver serum to Nome during a diphtheria outbreak in 1925. The route has been used by hunters, trappers and gold miners for more than a century.
The new route will remove the hazards of the Alaska Range, including the infamous Dalzell Gorge, where many mushers crashed last year trying to control dog teams moving at breakneck speeds over barren, gravelly trails. The change will put mushers on river ice for about 600 miles, which could create new problems along the unfamiliar route.
The winner is expected under the burled arch in Nome, a Bering Sea coastal town, in about 10 days.
It's the second time Fairbanks has hosted the official start of the race; similar low-snow conditions in 2003 also forced the start north.
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press