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Iditarod organizers consider moving restart to Fairbanks

During the restart in 2003, Karen Land gets her dog team back on track near the Riverboat Discovery on the Chena River just downstream from the starting line Monday in Fairbanks.
Erik Hill
During the 2003 restart in Fairbanks, Roger Evans and daughter Kelsi watch mushers cruise by as they share David and Joy Miller's hot tub built on a platform overhanging the Chena River.
Erik Hill

The official start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race may be moved from Willow to Fairbanks if trail conditions don't improve, race organizers said Saturday.

The ceremonial start of the 1,000-mile race to Nome is set for Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, and as of now, the restart is still scheduled for Willow on Sunday, March 2, organizers said.

However, trail conditions -- especially from the top of Rainy Pass in the Alaska Range to Nikolai -- may not be acceptable, according to an update sent to mushers and a statement posted on the race's website Saturday.

Iditarod organizers said they will decide by Feb. 17 if trail conditions will force a restart in Fairbanks on Monday, March 3. The Saturday ceremonial start would remain in Anchorage.

In the update sent to mushers on Friday, race director Mark Nordman described the Fairbanks backup plan.

"As of today, we are still planning on having an acceptable trail starting in Willow and going over the Alaska Range to Nome," he wrote. "We do have trail concerns from the top of Rainy Pass to Nikolai."

Nordman described a new set of checkpoints out of Fairbanks if the restart is moved there, including Nenana, Manley and Tanana. Mushers would go from Tanana to Ruby and follow the traditional trail from there to Nome.

It wouldn't be the first time the Iditarod restart has been moved to Fairbanks. In 2003, the race was moved there, for the first time, because of a lack of snow in Southcentral.

Iditarod executive director Stan Hooley said the trail beyond Rainy Pass is "a lot of areas with very little snow, in some places no snow."

To the east, he said, the trail across the Susitna Valley "isn't great ... pretty icy conditions with very little snow cover. Less than ideal." But it isn't as problematic as the trail coming down from Rainy Pass, he said.

The National Weather Service on Saturday was not forecasting precipitation in the area from Rainy Pass to Nikolai for the next week or two.

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