An Introduction to the Iditarod

iditarodThe Iditarod is a world-renowned sled dog race that takes place once a year in Alaska. Beginning in early March, mushers race along a 1,049-mile route from Anchorage to Nome over the course of 9-12 days. During this time, the teams must do battle with blizzards, below freezing temperatures, and powerful winds that can create a wind chill factor of –100 °F! Those who race in the Iditarod – both dogs and humans – possess an unparalleled degree of stamina and will power. It’s no wonder that the race is Alaska’s most popular sport!


When miners were searching for Alaskan gold from 1880 to 1920, sled dogs were the most widely used form of transportation and communication, particularly during the winter months when frozen waters rendered shipping ports useless. Once bush pilots arrived on the scene in the late 1920s, followed by the snowmobile in the 1960s, dog sledding as a viable means of transportation became obsolete. However, a long-standing tradition of competitive mushing has endured since the beginning of the twentieth century.

In 1967, Dorothy G. Page and Joe Redington Sr. sponsored the first Iditarod race, which back then was just 25 miles long. Redington and schoolteachers Gleo Huyck and Tom Johnson were later responsible for extending the length of the race to over 1,000 miles, giving us the Iditarod in its current form.

The race is named after the Iditarod Trail, which was in turn named after the Athabaskan village of the same moniker.


Dick Walmarth was the Iditarod’s first winner (1973), and the first woman to win the race was Libby Fields in 1985. In 1995, Montana resident Doug Swingley was the first non-Alaskan winner, and, in 2003, Robert Sørlie of Norway was the first non-U.S. resident to claim the championship.

The “Golden Harness” is an award given to the dogs of the winning team


Mushers must be in prime condition in order to face the physical challenges of the Iditarod. They stay in shape all year round by biking or jogging.

During the race, all mushers are required to have a sleeping bag that weighs five pounds or more. A sleeping bag of this type should keep a person warm at temperatures of -40. Participants are also required to carry an axe (for chopping firewood and digging for water), snowshoes, dog food, and “booties” for the dogs’ feet. These dog shoes protect the animals from abrasions while running. For more information on the equipment carried by mushers, click here.


54 mushers are signed up for the 2013 race. 4 of these participants – Lance Mackey, John Baker, Jeff King, and Martin Buser – have 14 Iditarod championships between them! It looks as if the 2013 Iditarod race will be just as exciting as those of years past.

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