Iron Dog, Rondy, Iditarod break up winter’s deep freeze
When February rolls around, many folks start feeling like “enough is enough already,” and start looking forward to warmer temperatures, fewer days of scraping ice off windows and less frequent trips to the woodpile to resupply the stove.
But for those who put on and are part of the Iron Dog snowmachine race, Fur Rendezvous Festival and the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, the best of winter is yet to come.
Iron Dog is enjoying its third year of ceremonial start from the streets of downtown Anchorage, giving spectators a chance to watch some of the sports toughest snowmachine racers take off for a grueling weeklong race to Nome and back to Fairbanks. The ceremonial start begins with the departure of the first racer at 1:30 p.m. Saturday Feb. 18, but there is plenty to see and do before and after, including a kids snowmachine parade and the Flying Iron Freestyle Show.
“Wintertime activities in Downtown create a sense of excitement and help folks get over that winter sludge,” said Penny Smythe, marketing director of the Anchorage Downtown Partnership, which works closely with Iron Dog to help pull off the big day. “Our goal is to bring vitality to Downtown Anchorage and certainly Iron Dog succeeds at that.”
Kevin Kastner, Iron Dog’s executive director, says this year’s Iron Dog is anyone’s race to win. He has long since stopped predicting winners, because there are so many variables – weather, mechanical issues and even pure luck – that play into the final results.
“My prediction is that we may have a ‘cold’ year for a change and that has the potential to reset the assumptions of both local racers and especially Lower 48 racers who have been involved for the last five-six years,” he said. “Outside of the cold, I suspect we’ll have a very competitive field and some possible comebacks for veterans who haven’t podium finished in a couple of years. As always, it’s Iron Dog … and anything can, and usually does, happen.”
The Fur Rendezvous Festival is up next, kicking off Feb. 24 and continuing through March 5.
“I think the snow in and of itself is newsworthy,” said Rondy executive director John McCleary, of this year’s bounty. After several snowless winters, everything from sled dog races to snowshoe softball to the snow sculpture contests will be improved.
“The past two years the snowshoe softball event turned more into a boot ball event, so they may have a chance to actually wear snowshoes this year,” McCleary said.
Other highlights to this year’s festival is the Running With the Critters, for children ages 3-12, which will feature area mascots (UAA Seawolf, the Anchorage Fire Department’s dalmation, etc.) participating in a portion of the Running of the Reindeers course with the children.
“The youngsters will run by them, through them – we haven’t gotten it all figured out yet – and then have hot chocolate with the critters at Hard Rock Café,” he added.
Perhaps most anticipated is the World Championship Sled Dog Races, which so far as 28 mushers preregistered for the race.
“We are working with the Alaska Sled Dog Racing Association to provide the largest purse for the world championship sled dog races,”
McCleary said. The purse has been set at $100,000. This is the largest field in recent memory to run in the event.”
As Fur Rondy winds down, the grand finale, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, amps up. The race has enjoyed its ceremonial start from downtown Anchorage since 1983. The ceremonial start takes place Saturday, March 4, with the first musher departing at 10 a.m., and picks up again 2 p.m., Sunday, March 5, at Willow Lake in front of the recreation center. The race will follow the southern route, as it routinely does in odd-numbered years, passing through Iditarod, Shageluk and Anvik on the way to Nome.
This year is the 45th running of the Iditarod and of the original 81 mushers signed up, 76 were still in the running as of mid-January. This year’s race is filled with faces from afar. Of those 76 racers, 13 hail from outside of the United States. Last year’s Iditarod featured 12 racers from out of the country.
Seven countries are represented, including England, Norway, France, Canada, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Sweden. Of the 18 rookies enters, five of them hail from overseas.
And of course, the longtime favorites are registered as well, including defending champion Dallas Seavey, Jeff King, Martin Buser, DeeDee Jonrowe and more.