Race officials say the 2021 Iditarod is still on

Thomas Waerner mushing into the Cripple checkpoint on Thursday, March 12, 2020. Cripple is about 425 miles into the 1,000-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Waerner would go on to win the 2020 Iditarod. (Zachariah Hughes/Alaska Public Media)

Race officials say the 2021 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is still on, and 61 mushers have already signed up for the 1,000-mile competition.

The race organization says it will work with an infectious disease epidemiologist from Emory University in Atlanta to develop a plan for holding the Iditarod during the coronavirus. 

“Much like the 1925 serum run to Nome, the Iditarod has shown that it too can persevere through a pandemic,” said a statement from race officials on Friday.

Iditarod mushers and their sled dogs are expected to start the race in early March and head for Nome.

Many of the details of the race — including whether teams will stop in remote communities along the way — are still being decided. Race officials say they’re creating a plan with options to account “for various permutations of the pandemic.”

Along with the epidemiologist, the Iditarod is consulting with local health officials, veterinarians and village leaders, said Friday’s statement. 

RELATED: While the coronavirus sidelines other sports, the 2020 Iditarod mushes on

Mushers signed up for the 2021 race include the champions of the last three Iditarods: Thomas Waerner, Pete Kaiser and Joar Leifseth Ulsom. Four-time Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey is also set to return to the Iditarod for the first time since 2017, when his dogs tested positive for a painkiller that the race prohibits.

Alaska’s other 1,000-mile race, the Yukon Quest, has morphed into a 300-mile race that won’t cross the border into Canada. Bethel’s Kuskokwim 300 is still on, but with some COVID-19-related changes.

Reach reporter Tegan Hanlon at thanlon@alaskapublic.org or 907-550-8447.