Iditarod teams are expected in Nome tonight, and some mushers still do not have a place to sleep once they get there.
Mushers have long depended on Nome residents to provide them a place to rest after the almost 1,000 mile journey. However, over the last five years, it’s become more difficult to find hosts to house mushers.
“Nomites seem to be downsizing. We’ve had several of our long-term housing hosts move out of town, and the economy as a whole,” Deborah Menendez, the Iditarod Nome Housing Coordinator, said. We also have a lot of temporary housing being taken up by some of the new enterprises in Nome.”
Mendez says about 10 percent of mushers book hotel rooms and a few rent houses, but those are usually veteran racers with large sponsors. The rest of the competitors depend on host families. While many Nome residents are willing to open their homes, some charge up to $150 a night per person for floor space. But Mendez only coordinates with hosts offering free housing.
“Well it’s extremely expensive just to get to the start of the race, especially the rookies,” Mendez said.
And the rookies are the mushers hit hardest by the housing crunch. While veterans have established a reputation and relationships in town—some staying with the same host family for decades— rookies are unknowns without a foothold in the community. And this year, even veterans are having a hard time finding a place to stay. Five veterans and four rookies still do not have a room to sleep in once they arrive.
Menendez says Nome has never failed to house a musher. Once the first teams cross the finish line, people get excited, word of mouth spreads, and the housing shortage closes. But this year, mushers are approaching faster than ever before, complicating the problem.
“It’s been a fast trail, so whereas we would expect a lot of the mushers typically to come in later in the week—Wednesday, Thursday, Friday,” she said. “Those mushers may be coming in sooner. And that’s the issue that we’re seeing this year.”
Hosting a musher, Menendez says, comes with perks like hearing race details and stories from the trail as well as forming relationships spanning the state, the country and the world.
Menendez says families and individuals who open their homes often show great hospitality to mushers, providing home-cooked meals and transportation. Despite the current housing deficit, Menedez remains optimistic that every musher will have a place to stay this year.
“Nome always comes through,” Mendez said. “We have never failed to house musher that needed housing. And that’s only through the generosity of the Nome residents.”
Menendez says Iditarod officials are expecting the first mushers into Nome between one and two o’ clock tomorrow morning.