Iditarod to Start in Willow, Not Fairbanks

2013 Willow Restart
The 2014 Iditarod will start in Willow and not Fairbanks. Officials had been contemplating moving the start because of trail conditions. Photo by Patrick Yack – Alaska Public Media.

The Iditarod Sled Dog race will start from Willow as planned. The Iditarod Trail Committee had been weighing moving the race start to Fairbanks in the last week because of low snow and icy conditions on the 65 miles of trail between Willow and Skwentna.

Iditarod Trail Committee executive director Stan Hooley said it wasn’t a tough decision to keep the start in Willow after race staff had a plan to improve the trail.

“You know, no one would look at the trail as it exists today out of Willow to Skwentna and say, ‘gee, let’s run the Iditarod on this. It’s not good right now,'” he said. “But we’ve got the ability to use heavy equipment to groom and literally build a highway, and that, I think everybody feels pretty good about.”

Palmer based Cruz Construction, a company that has experience building ice roads, has offered to groom the trail with a Pisten Bully and other specialized equipment. Hooley said without that help, the race start would have likely moved to Fairbanks.

He said given what the equipment can do, he doesn’t think there’s any risk to sticking with the traditional route. “To be able to change the consistency of that ice into something that resembles snow on a safe trail is something we’re confident we can do and people will be happy with.”

Hooley said the trail will be in good shape in time for the Willow start on March 3rd. Seventy mushers are signed up to make the run to Nome.

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Annie Feidt is the Managing Editor for Alaska's Energy Desk, a collaboration between Alaska Public Media in Anchorage, KTOO Public Media in Juneau and KUCB in Unalaska. Her reporting has taken her searching for polar bears on the Chukchi Sea ice, out to remote checkpoints on the Iditarod Trail, and up on the Eklutna Glacier with scientists studying its retreat. Her stories have been heard nationally on NPR and Marketplace. Annie’s career in radio journalism began in 1998 at Minnesota Public Radio, where she produced the regional edition of All Things Considered. She moved to Anchorage in 2004 with her husband, intending to stay in the 49th state just a few years. She has no plans to leave anytime soon. afeidt (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8443 | About Annie