Doing the Iditarod: Anchorage to Nome, AK

Photo by Brian Adams, Courtesy of the State of Alaska

Can you run 1,000 miles? Neither can I, but sled dogs can. And they begin this run on the first Saturday in March every year with a great sendoff. The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race—what’s known as “the last great race”—has taken place annually since 1973 from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska. The ceremonial start of the race is in Anchorage, also the historic actual starting point. In 2012, the actual start (or restart) was moved to Willow.

Spectators can enjoy the traditional ceremonies in Anchorage by finding a spot at the starting gate downtown or anywhere along the 11-mile route through the city. The next day, many spectators travel to Willow to witness the excitement of the race restart as the sled teams run out of the chute to begin the journey to Nome.

While only a lucky few follow the race via bush plane or snowmobile, most people remain in Anchorage for the festivities surrounding the Iditarod. Fur Rendezvous might be the best known. What has evolved into a giant winter festival began in 1935. Today, it’s a great way to get close to both the serious side and sillier side of Alaskan culture. Events like the Running of the Reindeer (a knock off of Spain’s Running of the Bulls) and Outhouse Races entertain festivalgoers in true Alaskan fashion. But the festival is also great way to experience Alaskan Native culture and art.

Fur Rondy, as the festival is known, begins about a week before the start of the Iditarod. A grand parade, a blanket toss (you have to see it to believe it), a snow sculpture championship and the Open World Championship Sled Dog.

Races are only a few of the dozens of events during the festival.

Back to the Iditarod, mushers contend for a chunk of change. The massive purse is divided among those who finish the race according to rank. The 2019 first place winner, Peter Kaiser’s team, from Bethel, Alaska, completed the race in 9 days, 12 hours, 39 minutes and 6 seconds for a prize in excess of $50,000.

The race is a culmination of things spectators never witness, such as how well the musher has prepared the dog team, how quickly and safely they respond to unforeseen challenges, how they manage time for their team (especially in balancing activity and rest), to name a few.

Find a full schedule of Fur Rondy events at furrondy.net and learn all about the Iditarod at iditarod.com. If you attend these events, make hotel reservations far in advance; check lodging options in Anchorage at anchorage.net and in the Mat-Su Valley (for Willow) at alaskavisit.com.