Why Moving the Iditarod is a Good Idea
For the third time in its forty-five year history, the Iditarod will be starting in Fairbanks. Moving the Iditarod this year to Fairbanks has drawn a wide range of opinions. Feedback has been on both sides of the spectrum. Some say it’s not paying homage to the purpose of the Iditarod to start in Fairbanks. Lodge owners are unhappy in the south, and scrambling with joy in the north. Mushers are able to breath a little easier.
With each year, new technology arrives. The sleds are lighter and shorter and are a stark contrast to the heavy and more cumbersome sleds of old. Equipment is more compact. The whole operation is built upon speed and agility.
The average winning time in the first 10 years of the Iditarod was approximately 16 days. In the last 5 years Mitch and Dallas Seavey have kept the winning time between 8 and 9 days. Mushers have effectively cut the time in half. The lighter equipment, new training practices and trail maintenance have all contributed to the faster finishes.
Most of the state has received a lot of snow this year. Southcentral has it, the coast has it, as well as many of the checkpoints along the trail. The most important place, Dalzell Gorge, however, doesn’t have a safe amount. Rerouting the trail to Fairbanks isn’t about money. It’s about safety.
Four time winner Jeff King released helmet cam footage of his trek between Rainy Pass and the Rohn checkpoint. | Video: Marcus Ackerman via YouTube
Sports are evolving. Spectators want the original version of the sport. They want to see the sport in its pure state. But, should this come at the expense of the athlete? Football kickoffs are now landing out of the back of the endzone, so the returner cannot return the kick. Some of the hardest hits in football take place when eleven guys are running as fast as they can to hit one guy running the opposite way as fast as he can, as hard as possible. Rules to protect the quarterback are tighter than ever. Soon it will be unsportsmanlike conduct to even look at the QB. While that’s probably a stretch, the NFL, NBA, MLB, NASCAR and more have all taken measures to protect the ever evolving athlete. Most sports are built on speed and endurance. Winning the Iditarod relies on those two skills as much as any other sport.
Should our entertainment be at the expense of the athletes? In mushing, should we be concerned about the businesses dependent upon revenue from mushing and purists of the sport, or the teams running the race?
Yes, lodge owners in Southcentral are losing big time. This last minute change is causing enormous cancellations, and fans of the sport are changing plans and heading north. Tens of thousands of dollars have been lost for these businesses. That money is now being spent in a different part of the state.
Mushers have voiced their concern about the trail.
Mitch Seavey was quoted in ADN saying, “The gorge without snow is like saying, ‘Why don’t you mush down the Yukon when it isn’t frozen. Aren’t you tough?’ It’s ridiculous.” In 2014, Mitch Seavey emerged from the Dalzell Gorge with bruised ribs, a broken leg and crushed knee cap. Other mushers expressed sentiment about keeping their dogs safe.
Imagine the outcry if the teams raced the normal course this year and dogs and mushers suffer injury or death. How we value life as a society should be paramount to money or keeping a sport pure. Injury and death are unavoidable, but if we can better protect the athlete, why not try? Moving the Iditarod makes sense to me.
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