Due to enhanced Covid protocols, spectators will not be permitted at the 2021 restart of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, to ensure the safety of the mushers heading out on the trail.
The change is one of many for the Last Great Race in 2021. All mushers are undergoing strict protocols, rigorous testing and other procedures to make the race as safe as possible. In addition to the prerace changes, the route has been altered significantly and for the first time ever, it will start and finish in Willow. The restart - normally a fan-friendly event - will not be open to spectators.
“We are encouraging people not to come out, simply because we need to keep our area as safe as possible,” said Chas St. George, Iditarod's COO, on a Mat-Su CVB webinar recently. “By the time they get to the place they’re going to be at Deshka Landing, these mushers will have already had three tests. Many of us will already have had four tests. And, we’ll continue that throughout the race.”
St. George said the fans are part of what makes the Iditarod such a special event, but for this year's running, caution had to be taken for the safety of everyone. He said people can still have "trailgate" parties along the Susitna River to watch their favorite mushers go by, but asked that no one make contact with the mushers and fans keep their distance to respect the safety of the mushers and their teams.
This year's race starts at Deshka Landing on Sunday, March 7 and runs all the way to just past the checkpoint of Iditarod, which is normally the halfway point. Instead of continuing on to Nome, the mushers will make the "Gold Trail Loop" and return back to Deshka Landing for the finish. The race will cover approximately 816 miles, about 200 miles less than the traditional race, which will have some mushers altering their strategies and giving race fans something new to track. The change was made in part to limit potential exposure to small, rural Alaska Native villages that have limited health care infrastructure.
In addition to the race route and starting line, changes include a virtual banquet instead of the traditional one where mushers draw for their starting position. St. George said the Iditarod Trail Committee is still working on details for things like live musher roundtable discussions.
In 2022, the Iditarod will celebrate its 50th anniversary.