Iditarod Trail integrity has lingered as a concern for veterans of Alaska’s 1,000-mile sled dog race to Nome as well as the hundreds of organizers, volunteers and veterinarians who help pull off the annual event. Mushing fans from Barrow to Auckland, New Zealand ( this year’s Iditarod includes a Kiwi) have been following updates from the Iditarod race committee, which decided in February that the race could be run safely from Willow despite thin snowpack, open water on the trail and treacherous conditions along the trail’s first 65 miles into the Alaska Range.
On Feb. 17, race marshal Mark Nordman said the Iditarod Trail between Willow Lake and the Farewell Burn, northwest of Rohn, wasn’t safe for canine or human athletes. On March 1, Dave Cruz with Cruz Construction out of Wasilla told me he didn’t see any reason for anyone to worry about adverse trail conditions impacting mushers.
“Even the Dalzell Gorge and along the Dalzell Creek, on into the (Kuskokwim) River … the most treacherous portions of the trail -- over and down the Happy steps -- the Iditarod Trail surface is smooth and there’s absolutely nothing to concern folks about for the dogs’ safety,” Cruz said in a telephone call from the Mat-Su, just after dinner on Saturday night.
“There’s no adverse conditions,” other than what’s already etched into the Alaskan wilderness, to be endanger dog teams, Cruz added.
Nordman relied on Dave Cruz and his construction company to make sure the Iditarod Trail was ridable for 69 of the world’s top sled dog racers and as many as 1,104 dogs that will be pulling them toward the Alaska Range and onto the northern race route toward Nome. Dave Cruz also works each winter with the Willow Community Trails Committee, a group that works to provide 4,000 miles of groomed snowmachine trails across the Mat-Su Borough.
Cruz Construction has prepared Willow Lake for the Iditarod restart for years. His company specializes in building ice roads and also blazes trail for oil and gas wildcatters in the western Susitna River drainage wilderness.
“You could say we participate very heavily in the Iditarod,” Dave said. “Our job is to plough (Willow Lake), get it ready prepped and capable of holding everything it takes to get the restart underway. The lake’s got to hold hundreds of vehicles and thousands of people,” and Cruz Construction also maintains the 16-acre parking lot across the Parks Highway, where Iditarod restart spectators park.
“Naturally, we’d all love it to be 25 degrees or colder out there for the restart,” Cruz conceded. But fluctuating temperatures and other uncontrollable variables are what separate Iditarod race champions from the also-rans -- and it remains to be seen how the trail holds up over the first 42 miles from the start chute to Yentna Station.
The first checkpoints have in years past marked the end of the race for back-of-pack teams worn down by snow that’s unable to set hard as the parade of dogs, mushers, race volunteers and snowmachining spectators pushes unrelenting into the wild white.
Contact Eric Adams at 257-4373 or by email at email@example.comComplete Iditarod coverage
Eric C. Adams
Anchorage Daily News / adn.com