The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race will restart in Willow next month and follow the southern route for the first time since 2013, race officials confirmed Friday.
Typically, Iditarod teams travel the southern route in odd-numbered years and the northern one in even-numbered years, but low snow and poor trail conditions pushed the official race start north to Fairbanks in 2015 and 2017.
Much of the northern and southern Iditarod routes align, except for about a 300-mile stretch between Ophir and Kaltag. The southern trail snakes south through the Interior Alaska villages of Iditarod, Shageluk, Anvik, Grayling and Eagle Island.
"Everything's really good," Mark Nordman, Iditarod race director, said of trail conditions. "The cold snap really helped."
Crews have continued to fix up the trail over the past several weeks, removing downed trees and updating trail markers, Nordman said. Next week, a crew will work on the Dalzell Gorge, a notoriously perilous stretch of trail between Rainy Pass and the next checkpoint of Rohn.
The 2018 Iditarod will hold its ceremonial start in Anchorage March 3 and will officially start in Willow the next day.
If conditions allow, the Iditarod will also follow the southern route in 2019.
According to the Iditarod website, the southern route measures an estimated 998 miles, while the northern route measures 975 miles and the Fairbanks route 979 miles.