2021 Iron Dog will have COVID-19 testing, fewer layovers and minimal air support

Iron Dog Team 10, Mike Morgan and Chris Olds, leave the Deshka Landing starting line of the...
Iron Dog Team 10, Mike Morgan and Chris Olds, leave the Deshka Landing starting line of the 2019 Iron Dog. (Courtesy Tom Stokes) (KTUU)
Published: Feb. 11, 2021 at 6:50 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The 2021 Iron Dog gets underway this Saturday as 23 pro-class teams head out from Big Lake on their 2,645-mile journey through Alaska’s interior, to the halfway point in Nome, up to Kotzebue and then head south to Big Lake for the finish.

“The race is very fluid this year,” Executive Director Mike Vasser said. “It seems to change daily with all the mitigation plans for COVID.”

Fans are allowed to attend the Big Lake start, but Vasser said they won’t plow a parking lot. He added families should stick to their bubble, social distance and watch 10-15 miles down the trail.

“It’s an outside event so I can’t stop people from coming,” Vasser said. “So people are more than welcome to view, but we would encourage them to view from the road.”

Pro-class teams will be tested on Friday before the start, during the race in Galena and in Nome heading northbound. A majority of the checkpoints will be run by the volunteers from that community and not flown-in race officials.

If a rider tests positive for COVID-19, they cannot finish the race, but Iron Dog has instituted a “rona rider” plan to help that team finish the race. Vasser said they have four to five rona riders on standby that will be flown in to fill the space of a racer if they test positive for COVID-19 and cannot finish the race.

Under normal circumstances, teams fly in parts along the trail to fix their snowmachine if broken, but that will be restricted this year with teams only allowed to fly in parts by scheduled commercial airline for a majority of the trail.

“Airplane support has been an integral part of the race in the past,” Vasser said. “This year planes will only be allowed from Big Lake to McGrath northbound route, and McGrath to Big Lake on the southbound route.”

These changes will have a big impact on how racers prepare for the race with deep snow expected on many parts of the trail and many checkpoints not allowing layovers, requiring teams to gas and go.

“Lack of possible layovers is going to change the dynamics a little bit,” Team #7, Tyler Aklestad, said. “There is going to be some long stretches you’ll have to be conscious of the fact you don’t have the air support.”

Teams will be focused on conserving equipment with minimal air support and racing through the roughest part of the trail twice.

“The best years that we had, we barely took any parts from our airplane,” Team #14, Casey Boylan, said. “Realistically if we run a perfect race we won’t need air support.”

For the past 15 years, the race has been run between Big Lake and Fairbanks, 2005 was the last time the Iron Dog start and finished in Southcentral Alaska. The 2021 Iron Dog pro class race begins Saturday on Big Lake at 11:00 am.

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