Iditarod race gears up with busy February and March

Mushers, volunteers and Iditarod Trail Committee members will all be working right up until the race start.
Published: Feb. 3, 2023 at 6:44 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The 51st running of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race will begin in downtown Anchorage just four weeks from now, but the work — and the fun — is already well underway. Mushers, volunteers and Iditarod Trail Committee members will all be working right up until the race start. Here is a list of the upcoming Iditarod activities that will keep fans and volunteers busy until the first Saturday in March.

Straw Drop - Feb. 9, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. - Anchorage

Surprisingly, sled dog races require a lot of something usually associated with horses — straw. Because the straw itself is dried out and relatively hollow, it traps air and keeps dogs warm when bedding down at checkpoints or on the trail. Feb. 9 is the day the straw will be collected and readied for distribution to communities on the Historical Iditarod Trail like Unalakleet, Rohn and Koyuk.

Musher Food Drop - Feb. 15 & 16, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. - Anchorage

The dogs that run in the Iditarod are elite athletes, and running a race as long as the Iditarod burns a lot of calories. In order for the dogs to have meals and snacks along the trail, mushers have to pack bags of food before the race that will be flown out to each checkpoint by a team of volunteers. Feb. 15 & 16 are the days mushers will bring their food bags to Air Land Transit, where volunteers will sort, prepare and load them into planes for distribution.

Wasilla Dog Handler’s Meeting - Feb. 18 - Iditarod Headquarters, Wasilla

With more than 34 teams scheduled to start the race, and more than 540 dogs waiting to enter the starting chute, each musher needs a couple of dog handlers to assist with preparing teams for the starting line. Handlers will need to attend the meeting at Iditarod Headquarters on Feb. 18 to get familiar with the plan for the ceremonial race start.

Educator’s Conference - Feb. 28 to Mar. 3 - Lakefront Hotel, Anchorage

Teachers and education professionals from around the country integrate the Iditarod into their curriculum as a way to teach students about science, history and more. The three-day conference for educators at the Lakefront Hotel will include a bevy of presentations, lessons, activities and even a trip for the teachers to meet a kennel full of sled dogs. Alaska educators can purchase tickets at a discounted rate.

Musher Meet and Greet - March 2, 4 p.m. - Dena’ina Center, Anchorage

Before the big day, mushers make time in their busy schedules to meet with race fans, volunteers and other teammates. Fans can ask for autographs and take pictures with some of the legends of dog sled racing. This year will be the first meet-and-greet event to be held since 2020. Admission to the meet and greet is included with the purchase of a ticket to the banquet. Tickets will be available for purchase at the door.

Musher’s Banquet Gala - March 2, 6 p.m. - Dena’ina Center, Anchorage

The starting order of the race is also determined at the banquet, with each musher drawing a number from a mukluk that corresponds to their bib number and when they’ll leave the starting chute. This year bib number 1, which is usually assigned to race co-founder Joe Redington Sr., will be assigned to honor the late Lance Mackey, the 2023 Iditarod’s honorary musher. Vegetarian options are available.

Tickets for the banquet are available on the Iditarod website. Each seat sells for $150, which includes admission to the Musher Meet and Greet. A seat at the banquet and a pre-order for this year’s race documentary can be purchased for $170, while a table for 10 can be purchased for $1,500.

2023 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Ceremonial Start - March 4, 10 a.m. - Downtown Anchorage

The first Saturday of March — also known as Susan Butcher Day to honor the race’s second female winner — is the day the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race begins on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage at 10 a.m. Streets will be blocked off the night before to allow crews to prepare the roads for mushing by spreading snow in the road. The first musher out of the gate will leave at 10 a.m., with each subsequent musher leaving the starting chute in two-minute intervals.

2023 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Official Restart - March 5 - 2 p.m. - Willow

After Saturday’s festivities in Anchorage, mushers will take their teams up the Glenn and Parks highways to Willow for the official restart. Mushers will take their teams approximately 70 miles from Campbell Airstrip to the restart area in Willow for the 2 p.m. restart.

2023 Finisher’s Banquet - March 19 - Nome, AK

Once the Red Lantern crosses under the burled arch in Nome, the race will be finished and it’s time to celebrate the accomplishments of this year’s teams and eat a hot meal. Awards — including those recognizing sportsmanship, dog care and rookie of the year — are distributed at the banquet.

For a full calendar of events, visit the Iditarod website.

Correction: This article has been updated to correct the first female winner of the Iditarod. Libby Riddles was the first female winner of the race, while Susan Butcher was the second. Additionally, mushers will take their teams approximately 70 miles from Campbell Airstrip to the restart area in Willow, not 42 miles, and the Musher’s Banquet Gala and Musher Meet and Greet are on March 2, not March 3.