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Iron Dog, feeling pinch of the pandemic, will skip Fairbanks in 2021

  • Author: Beth Bragg
  • Updated: June 5
  • Published June 5

Tyler Aklestad and Tyson Johnson celebrate their victory in the 2016 race at the finish line in Fairbanks. Fairbanks won't be part of the 2021 race course. (Dermot Cole / ADN archives)

The Iron Dog snowmachine race won’t go to Fairbanks in 2021 and instead will become a 2,200-mile round trip between Big Lake and Nome.

Known as the world’s longest and toughest snowmachine race, the Iron Dog made what executive director John Woodbury called a tough decision to eliminate Fairbanks and several Yukon River villages from next year’s race route.

The change was made in an effort to keep the race financially viable. The Iron Dog has struggled in recent years — in 2018, organizers came close to canceling the 2019 race — and the pandemic has added to the troubles.

“Like everybody else, we’re kind of in flux right now,” Woodbury said. “We want to put on the most cost-effective, safe race we can.”

The 2021 race will start Feb. 14 and finish Feb. 20 at Big Lake. As usual, teams will take a layover at the halfway point in Nome and then head back to Big Lake.

The race was first held in 1984 as a 1,000-mile race from Wasilla to Nome. In 1993, it became a round-trip race and in 1998 it became a Wasilla-to-Nome-to-Fairbanks race. Fairbanks has been part of the Iron Dog ever since with the exception of 2005.

Woodbury said it was difficult to eliminate the city from the 2021 race. He said racers, sponsors and volunteers were surveyed before the change was made.

“It’s strictly a financial deal,” he said. “We will be back. Whether we start the race in Fairbanks or finish the race in Fairbanks, we will be back.”

With fewer staging areas, fewer checkpoints and less trail involved, the race will be able to save money and is expected to require fewer volunteers.

Still undecided is whether the Iron Dog will travel to Kotzebue, which in 2020 was part of the race for the first time. For the 2020 race, organizers reversed the course — teams started in Fairbanks and ended in Big Lake — and added a loop that took racers to Kotzebue and a few other Northwest Alaska villages. The total distance was about 2,400 miles, making it the longest course in race history.

“It’s our goal to retain the Kotzebue loop, but it’s directly dependent upon funding,” Woodbury said. "It was a grand addition to the route last year, and the enthusiasm is still there for it. We just have to work diligently to make it pencil out this year."

The 2021 trail class event for recreational riders will go from Big Lake to Nome. It is scheduled to start Feb. 12 and finish Feb. 17.

Online registration begins June 15 and ends Oct. 31 — well ahead of the usual signup start in October. Entry fee is $4,100 for the pro class and $2,600 for the recreational class. For pro-class racers, the first 15 teams to sign up and pay their entry fee will get to choose — rather than draw for — their start positions.

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