2019 Iditarod Coverage--Day 1 Update

The First to Skwentna

By: Michael Rogers

It’s 9:00 PM on Day 1 of the Iditarod and Jessie Holmes is the first musher to Skwentna. With a moving average of 9.7 miles per hour, he’s easily the fastest musher on the course at the moment.

Jessie Holmes signs an autograph for a race fan at the musher pre-race banquet at the Denaina Convention center for Iditarod 2019 Photo by Jeff Schultz

Surprisingly, his pace has been maintained since his start in Willow, 83 miles away. In pre-race interviews Holmes alluded to training his teams in warmer conditions as well as sprint dog lineage in his team’s bloodlines being more resistant to overheating when running in the heat of the day. With most of the course near the freezing point until sunset, it’s a strategy that’s clearly working for him for now. 

Alison Lifka's leaders bolt down the start chute during the restart of the 2019 Iditarod race in Willow, Alaska on Sunday March 3, 2019. Photo by Jeff Schultz

Matt Hall is leading the front of the pack 5 miles behind with a pace that’s been dropping slightly as the miles pile on. Most of the mushers are now through Yentna Station with a few electing to rest near there briefly, feed the dogs, and prepare to run through the night. Most of the musher’s paces have increased after sunset as the temperatures drop and the trails harden. Born and bred for cold weather, most of these dogs are going to perform better when it gets cold rather than when it’s warm and since it’s been a warm winter so far, expect to see most of the fast runs occurring at night or in the early morning. 

With a population of around 100 people, Skwentna serves as a sort of hub for the area’s homesteaders and recreational cabins. The checkpoint is in a structure known as the Post Office, which is also a private residence, store and for today…an Iditarod checkpoint. The next checkpoint is Finger Lake. While the trail to Finger Lake isn’t particularly challenging, On a low snow year such as this, the trail can be fairly torn up by heavy snowmachine traffic and may be challenging in the dark.

While it’s far too early in the race to start making predictions or even guesses about strategies, there have been some big moves in the first part of the race. 

Aliy Zirkle runs past the spectators in the start chute during the restart of the 2019 Iditarod race in Willow, Alaska. Photo by Jeff Schultz

Jessie Royer has moved from starting at 14th to 4th and is running fast. Jason Campeau is back on the runners after a serious head injury in the 2018 Yukon Quest and has moved from 12th to 5th. Fan favorites Aliy Zirkle and Nic Petit have moved from 19th and 20th to 6th and 7th respectively with Jeff King coming from 23rd to currently hold 8th. 2018 Iditarod champ Joar Ulsom has sprinted up 18 positions to round out the top ten in 10th position briefly before stopping to rest. If you exclude Holmes, the top ten occupy just 3 miles of trail. With most of the racers now on the Yentna River, it is a string of headlamps in the dark pulsing to Skwentna. 

Most of the mushers will hope to make it to Rainy Pass in the early morning tomorrow and rest in the sun before tackling the notorious Dalzell Gorge, perhaps the most treacherous section of trail in the entire race. 

"The year was 1992 and I had asked Barry Stanley, then caretaker at Rainy Pass lodge if he would meet me at the Finger Lake checkpoint, some 30 miles back down the trail, and take me by snowmachine up to the Rainy Pass checkpoint so I could photograph teams along that very diverse and scenic section of the trail. He agreed. This photo, one of my all-time favorite Iditarod photos, shows Bob Hickel and team dropping onto the Happy River, just after successfully negotiating the notorious, Happy River Steps — a set of switchbacks and steep drops that oftentimes causes mushers to crash."
-- Jeff Schultz


What is the name of the musher that is on tv -life below zero?

Karyle Beitman April 17, 2021

I follow the Iditarod every year now that I live outside, you giving updates makes it easier to keep up. Thanks a lot.

Marilyn April 17, 2021

Thanks for the news!!

Cindi Ackerlund April 17, 2021

Go Jessie & team!

Donna April 17, 2021

Love the Iditarod. Miss being there. Thanks for the update.

BilleeJean Marquiss April 17, 2021

Thanks! Love the pictures, too.

Ronda White April 17, 2021

You are welcome John! Check here for daily Iditarod updates.

Marty Moffat April 17, 2021

Thanks for following The Alaska Life Sara. More updates daily.

Marty Moffat April 17, 2021

Thanks for update. Stay safe .

John Allen April 17, 2021

Love this update…can you keep this going?

Sue Kolb April 17, 2021

We do not get to hear much if any thing about the race. Thanks for the post. There is a guy from Toledo oh that is in race. Forgot his name but would be good to find out how he is doing

Russ April 17, 2021

Thank you, like to hear how it’s going.

Kristine April 17, 2021

So glad to see Jessie Holmes is out in front and his training of his dogs is paying off. He loves those dogs and they are paying him back in kind! Go Jessie! Our prayers for a safe and successful race go with you!

Sande April 17, 2021


Taffy Jo Kelly April 17, 2021

Amazing love the updates its like watching DAYTONA 500 but instead its Alaska 1000

Scott Mitchell April 17, 2021

Thanks looking forward to future updates!

Cheri April 17, 2021

Awesome thanks!

Char Nash April 17, 2021

Thanks for the update!

Sara Thomas April 17, 2021

Was there for the 2016 Iditarod. Such an experience! Thanks for keeping us updated.

Carol Parker Baden April 17, 2021

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