Alaska News

Weather woes alter Iditarod restart in Fairbanks; Anchorage ceremonial route OK

Another day, another move for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

Race organizers announced Monday that the Fairbanks restart -- already moved from its traditional location in Willow for only the second time in race history -- would be moved from the Chena River north of Pike's Landing to a nearby road due to warm weather and deteriorating river ice.

According to organizers, there's open water and too much thin ice to accommodate 78 mushers and thousands of race fans on the river. Unlike the 2003 start, which started on the river ice, this year's race will start 10 a.m. Monday next to the greenhouse at Pike's Landing and follow roads that pass the unsuitable stretch of ice before returning to the Chena River. The change will divert mushers from the river for about a half-mile.

Once back on the Chena, mushers will continue to the Tanana River, where they will follow the planned race trail toward the first checkpoint at the Parks Highway community of Nenana.

Deteriorating ice

Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins said the borough has been monitoring Chena River ice for weeks, going so far as to flood the area near Pike's Landing in an attempt to thicken it. But late last week, Hopkins said, with ice on the river's edge "soft and mushy," it was clear they would have to move the start.

"We can't plan on a race on the river when the ice was just continuing to deteriorate," he said.

With the start moved to the roadway, traffic congestion is expected to be even worse than anticipated. Hopkins said no spectators should plan on driving to the start of the race. Overflow parking will be available at Pioneer Park. Shuttle buses from the Carlson Center will begin departing at 7 a.m. and will depart from the center every 10 minutes beginning at 8 a.m. Hopkins said the ride to and from the start line should last about 10 minutes.

The Anchorage ceremonial start Saturday remains a go, with mushers set to start in downtown Anchorage and make their way along 11 miles of city streets and trails to the Campbell Airstrip Road tract, Iditarod CEO Stan Hooley said.

Hooley acknowledged that the Anchorage trail system is icy and snow-bare in places but the race was in a similar situation in 2003 and the city found ways to make the trails suitable with stockpiled snow and machines that crunched ice into a safer surface.

"(The municipality) made believers out of us with similar conditions (in 2003)," Hooley said. "We're confident we have snow reserves to be able to pull the (ceremonial start) off in a way that's good for everyone involved."

Hooley admitted that planning for the unusual Fairbanks restart had been a "distraction" but that he enjoyed working with the community and the information planners are collecting might be useful for a future Fairbanks restart.

"It's no secret Alaskan winters aren't what they used to be. … It's highly likely we'll do it again sooner than later unless winter patterns change."

Suzanna Caldwell

Suzanna Caldwell is a former reporter for Alaska Dispatch News and Alaska Dispatch. She left the ADN in 2017.