The world-famous Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race gets under way the first Sunday in March (March 7, 2021) from Willow Lake. While the mushers participate in a ceremonial start on Saturday in downtown Anchorage, from Willow, it’s all business as the mushers are on the clock. From Willow Lake, the musher’s begin their 1,000-mile race across Alaska. It’s a grueling race that attracts mushers from around the world. In 2021, the race will look much different due to Covid-19 precautions. For the first time ever, the race will start and finish in Willow, with mushers turning around at the halfway checkpoint of Iditarod.
How to see the start
The "Last Great Race" begins in downtown Anchorage with a ceremonial start on March 6, 2021. The 11-mile route does not officially count in the standings. On Sunday, March 7, 2021, mushers depart from Willow Lake starting at 2 p.m., in two-minute intervals. This is called the Iditarod Restart. The race culminates in Nome, Alaska; three-time winner Mitch Seavey set a race record in 2017 by finishing in 8 days, 3 hours, 40 minutes and 13 seconds. Due to Covid precautions, it is unclear as of Dec. 20, 2020 whether fans will be permitted at the starting line. Visit www.iditarod.com if making travel plans for the 2021 race.
At the ceremonial start in Anchorage, race fans can actually ride in the sled of their favorite musher through a program called the Iditarider Auction. People bid on particular mushers, and the winning bidders gets to be in the sled. The auction typically opens in mid-December each year.
Chase the Race
Once the race leaves Willow, it is completely off the road system, but you can still follow along. Race fans can chase the race by snowmobile, or by hiring a flightseeing company to take you to an Iditarod checkpoint. If you want to see the finish in Nome, Alaska Airlines operates a regular schedule of flights departing from Anchorage. As of Dec. 20, 2020, it is unclear whether visitors will be allowed to chase the 2021 race however, due to Covid precautions.
The Iditarod Trail is roughly 1,000 miles long and there are actually two routes - the "Northern Route" is used in even numbered years, and the "Southern Route" is used in odd numbered years. The two routes are the same until the checkpoint of Ophir, roughly 450 miles into the race. From there, one goes north while the other goes south, until the checkpoint of Kaltag, which begins the same 250-mile stretch to the finish line in Nome. The 2021 race will use a much different course, however. It will start and finish in Willow, with mushers turning around just past the halfway checkpoint of Iditarod, resulting in an 850-mile race. Small rural villages have very limited health care infrastructure so the race will not be going through those communities in 2021.
In 1925, the Iditarod Trail captured national attention as the life-saving highway for the diptheria-stricken Nome. When air travel became impossible due to the harsh winter, twenty mushers and their heroic dogs carried serum in a 674-mile relay from Fairbanks to Nome in 127.5. The first Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race as we know it today started in 1973, with Dick Wilmarth winning the race in just over 20 days.
Rick Swenson, 5; Susan Butcher, Martin Buser, Lance Mackey, Jeff King, Dallas Seavey, 4; Mitch Seavey, 3; Robert Sorlie 2.
- Fastest Winning Time: Mitch Seavey, 2017, 8 days, 3 hours, 40 minutes, 13 seconds
- Youngest musher to win: Dallas Seavey, 2012, age 25
- Most consecutive wins: Lance Mackey, 4, 2007-2010 races
- First woman to win: Libby Riddles, 1985
- First non-Alaskan to win: Doug Swingley, 1995 (Montana)