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By moving up 31 places in the standings, Tim Pappas wins Iditarod award for most improved musher

  • Author: Anchorage Daily News
  • Updated: April 22
  • Published April 22

Tim Pappas looks over his sled in the days leading up to this year's Iditarod. (Marc Lester / ADN)

Big Lake musher Tim Pappas went from Bottom 20 to Top 20 in his second appearance in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, an improvement that earned him the Matson Most Improved Musher Award for this year’s race.

Pappas drove a team of top dogs from four-time champion Martin Buser’s kennel to a 20th-place finish in his second run to Nome. He was among 34 finishers in a race that saw 20 teams — 35% of the field — drop out during a year notable for abundant snow and dangerous overflow.

In his 2016 rookie run, Pappas placed 51st in a field of 71 finishers.

Pappas, 30, works at Buser’s Happy Trails Kennel as a tour guide in the summer and runs dogs for the kennel in the winter. This year, Buser drove a team of young dogs to Nome while Pappas drove the kennel’s veteran team.

Buser finished 25th and was part of the Elim 11, a group of 11 mushers who got stuck in Elim for two days because of a Norton Sound storm surge that sent overflow onto the trail and made it impassable.

Pappas was one of several mushers who enjoyed big improvements this year. Jessie Holmes and Lev Shvarts both jumped up 18 spots from their previous races, and Thomas Waerner and Brent Sass both improved by 16 places.

Like Pappas, Waerner was making his second Iditarod appearance. He was the 2015 Rookie of the Year for finishing 17th, and he won the race this year.

The award was first presented in 1987, and since then the two biggest improvements have come in recent years. In 2018, Matthew Failor of Willow shot up 46 spots to finish 13th after placing 59th in his previous race; in 2016, Noah Burmeister of Nome jumped up 44 spots to finish 11th after placing 55th in his previous race.

Dogs in Tim Pappas's team howl before leaving Nikolai in this year's race. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Matson Most Improved Musher Award

1987 — Ted English

1988 — not given

1989 — Tim Mowry

1990 — Mike Madden

1991 — Frank Teasley

1992 — Claire Philip

1993 — Bob Holder

1994 — Charlie Boulding

1995 — Harry Caldwell

1996 — David Scheer

1997 — Bill Bass

1998 — Sonny King

1999 — Max Hall

2000 — Ramy Brooks

2001 — Dan Govoni

2002 — Lynda Plettner

2003 — Clint Warnke

2004 — Jason Barron

2005 — Harmony Barron

2006 — Rick Casillo

2007 — Tollef Monson

2008 — Warren Palfrey

2009 — Dallas Seavey

2010 — Sam Deltour

2011 — Trent Herbst

2012 — Rohn Buser

2013 — Nick Petit

2014 — Richie Diehl

2015 — Travis Beals

2016 — Noah Burmeister

2017 — Ryan Redington

2018 — Matthew Failor

2019 — Paige Drobny

Iditarod Coverage