ANCHORAGE (Alaska) -- In the midst of a snowstorm, hundreds of people gathered in downtown Anchorage to witness the start of the Iditarod Trail Dog Race.
Last year's ceremonial start was cancelled due to the pandemic. Fans who attended the 50th running were limited in their interaction with the participants, but were still able to observe from behind the fences as the mushers depart the starting line at two minutes intervals.
A group of Mushers walked through Alaska's largest city. They waved at the crowds as they passed by, and then headed north to Willow, which is about 75 miles north from Anchorage. The race for mushers with their dogs begins Sunday. The winner will be announced in Nome nine days later.
Mushers needed to present proof of vaccination to their race. They will be isolated at checkpoints to ensure that they don't carry Covid-19 to rural villages, which are largely Alaska Native, along the roughly 1,000-mile route from Nome.
Due to the ongoing pandemic some villages decided not to have checkpoints. The community building will no longer be used to accommodate mushers awaiting the last push.
Instead of lumber being delivered, an elaborate tent camp, with new outhouses was being constructed, Mark Nordman, race marshal, said.
This year's race features 49 mushers, including the defending champion Dallas Seavey. He is trying to make history by becoming the first musher in six Iditarod titles. The 35-year old indicated that this was likely his last race as he wants to spend more time with his daughter, preteen.
Two four-time winners Jeff King and Martin Buser are also in the race.
King was last seen racing in 2019. Mitch Seavey (a three-time winner and Dallas’ father) is also back this season. Pete Kaiser, 2018 champion and Joar Leifseth Usom are also back.
15 mushers withdrew prior to the race, including 2020 winner Thomas Waerner who was not allowed to travel to America from Norway.
Musher JayeFoucher retreated after her sled dogs team veered onto an Alaska highway in January and collided with the pickup truck. One of the dogs was killed and three were injured.
Moose have been a problem for mushers along the trail this year. Heavy snow years in Alaska have made moose aggressive towards people in the backcountry, even mushers.
Bridgett Watkins, a rookie musher, had four dogs severely injured during a training run last year. A friend shot the bull-moose with a high powered rifle.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is still the race's most vocal critic. The Anchorage hotel, which has been the race's headquarters for over three decades, will end its affiliation with the race.
Officials at the Lakefront Anchorage Hotel attributed the change to the pandemic's impact on business. However, the hotel's owners, Millennium Hotels and Resorts announced the move a day before PETA planned protest outside the Millennium Knickerbocker Hotel Chicago.
Iditarod CEO Rob Urbach said that six new sponsors had been signed up for the Iditarod this year during a pre-race press conference.
He said that he thought it was a big story.