Low snow conditions, warm weather, open water, and rough terrain were certainly the talking points around the restart of the longest, toughest snowmobile race on the planet. Race volunteers shuffled their feet on glare ice trying to keep their footing while spectators waded through sometimes ankle deep slush and snow to get a good spot along the chute to see their favorite teams depart the finish line and start their official time. This scene of 40 degree weather, standing water, and reports from already weary Trail Class racers made everyone gathered around wonder just what these pro-class teams have in store for them along the 2,000 mile stretch of trail, covering some of the toughest conditions in Alaska, despite the added challenges of running a snowmobile…with no snow.
5, 4, 3, 2, 1! Team 28 of Jason Gundersen and Josh Norum were now officially breaking trail ahead of their racing peers, shooting off the starting line on their 2015 Skidoo MXZ-X RS 600 sleds. Like all of the other racers, their snowmobiles were fitted with not only auxiliary high output LED lights, but also auxiliary fuel tanks, mandatory survival gear, GPS tracking equipment, and as many stickers from their sponsors that they could fit on there. In 2 minute increments, each team of two Pro-Class racers left the starting line, 37 teams in total.
So what exactly was in store for these racers? Early reports from the Trail Class teams who leave before the Pro-Class racers were less than stellar. According to the facebook page of Rebecca Charles, one of the three teammates of Trail Class team 60, racers were to encounter glare ice, more standing water than previously anticipated, and…you guessed it…extremely low (to no) snow conditions. From Rebecca: “When we weren’t battling no snow, we were encountering crazy overflow. We spent most of the morning before the burn water skipping across deep river rapids. A lot. Like on the order of a couple dozen times. I came out unscathed. Many others did not…We were wet above our knees recovering sleds. This is way tougher than last year.”
By 1:24 PM, under 3.5 hours after the start, racers were already barreling down on the Puntilla Lake checkpoint, 161 miles into the race. Team #7 of Aaron Bartel and Scott Davis (who had a very relaxed demeanor at the starting line) were first to arrive. Just 4 minutes later they were back on the trail headed toward Rohn, where they would check in at exactly 3PM. Though the real speed of this race doesn’t pick up until the trail travels down the river sections, teams are seeming to make good time despite the troublesome conditions. Balancing speed and longevity of the equipment on these early sections of the race might prove to be critical to keep from burning down machines, adding to premature equipment failure, and possibly personal injury.
One of the largest early upsets to date would be the almost immediate scratch from Team 8 of Tyler Aklestad and Tyson Johnson. According to their facebook page around 2:30PM, a status was posted that indicated technical difficulties that forced them to return to Big-Lake. Shortly thereafter, a second status reported they have scratched from the race, mirroring the outcome of the 2014 Iron Dog for the same duo, having to hang it up in Manley Hot springs after being very competitive in that race. Unconfirmed reports are that the Skidoo that Aklestad was racing lost a piston, forcing the scratch.
Speaking of seasoned veterans encountering major difficulties early in the race, last years team to claim top prize is likely fighting an uphill battle to stay in this race. Team 16 of Todd Minnick and Nick Olstad broke a jack shaft on the trail to Skwentna. The team decided to tow the broken snowmobile to the first checkpoint just 89 miles from the start. This is when it apparently went from bad to worse for the title defenders where they lost control and hit a tree. Both a-arms and the shock on one side of the snowmobile were badly damaged and were to be replaced. Reports are that they are back on the trail, riding fast, and making up for lost time.
As of writing this, most of the racers have crossed through the Rohn checkpoint, entering an area known as the Farewell Burn. ‘The Burn’ often provides little snow depth on a good year, and it comes at no surprise that racers are having to act as if their snowmobiles are ATV’s across this long stretch of dusty trail. Rebecca Charles provides these photos from her facebook page
It also appears that team 34 was towing one of their sleds into the Skwentna checkpoint and it looks like they may finish their race there as well. Nothing official at this time if they have scratched or not.
Team 7 of Davis/Bartel appeared to have made excellent time through the burn and are back up to race speeds headed into Nikolai. Latest GPS speeds indicate that team at 34 mph, stretching what appears to be an early lead.
Team 33 Conner/Koontz have made it out of Puntilla lake and are traveling fairly slowly entering The Burn, averaging speeds in the teens to mid 20’s according to the on-board GPS.
Team #12 of the Strick brothers are putting on an excellent race at thsi time, already clearing the Rohn checkpoint and doing their share of ‘burn time’ at speeds around 20mph.
We are planning on giving as much race coverage as possible here at The Alaska Life. If you have race details, we would love to hear them on our Facebook page so we can continue to compile all of the details everyone wants to read. Check back daily for updates!