The world's most famous sled dog race is putting more cold cash into the hands of its top mushers.
The winner of next year's Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race will pocket $70,000, which is $19,600 more than what the top musher received last year, Stan Hooley, the race's executive director, said Tuesday.
The overall purse is increasing by $50,000, and that additional prize money will be distributed to the top five finishers.
"Our goal is to continue to grow prize money each year and every year," Hooley said. "This just fits a pattern of that growth that we've set a goal to accomplish."
The winner of the nearly 1,000-mile race from Anchorage to Nome used to pocket $69,000 for first place -- until the downturn in the economy five years ago, when the Iditarod lost nearly $1 million in sponsorships and scaled back the purse.
The winner for the past five years has taken home about $50,000, which some mushers say doesn't even cover their dog food bill for a year.
Four-time winner Jeff King donated $50,000 to the race, but times have improved in the two years since he made that gift.
"It has been a gradual growth process," Hooley said.
The race recently renewed a deal with the Sportsman Channel to be the Iditarod's official television network.
Though financial details haven't been disclosed, Hooley said: "The cash involved in that deal is certainly a part of the ability to grow the purse again this year."
The only difference in this year's increased purse is how it will be doled out, among the top five mushers instead of evenly distributed among the top 30, he said.
Besides the $70,000 check, the winner will receive a new Dodge pickup, making the total prize package for the first musher to cross the finish line in excess of $110,000.
The second place musher will pocket $58,600, up $11,000 from this year. The third place finisher gets $53,900, an increase of $9,000; the musher coming in fourth takes home $48,400, up $6,000; and the fifth place musher will receive $44,300, or $4,400 more than this year.
Hooley said the decision to increase the purse to just the top five mushers marks a "change in philosophy" among the Iditarod Board of Directors, who debated at length about the issue.
The decision ultimately creates "a buzz within the mushing community," Hooley said.
"It creates a little more excitement," he said. "Running this race is an expensive proposition, no matter the level."
Overall, mushers finishing in the top 30 earn prize money on a sliding scale, down to $1,900 for 30th place. Every other musher who finishes will get $1,049 in prize money.
So far, 78 mushers have signed up for the 2015 race, including defending champion Dallas Seavey.
Alaska Dispatch News reporter Suzanna Caldwell contributed to this story.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing