What Is the Iditarod?

The Iditarod is a yearly dog sled race.
The Iditarod is a yearly dog sled race.

The Iditarod is a yearly dog sled race that takes place in March in the US state of Alaska. The race runs from the Municipality of Anchorage to the City of Nome. It begins on the first Saturday of March on Fourth Avenue, Anchorage. The first official Iditarod took place in 1973.

History of the Iditarod

The race gets its name from the Iditarod trail which was a mail route during the Alaskan Gold Rush. Mail, firewood, food, fur, and other supplies were transported on this trail. It was popular in areas where aircrafts and steam ships had problems reaching. Use of the trail declined due to the end of the gold rush and shutting down of mining towns, such as Iditarod which then became a ghost town.

The first major mushing competition was the All Alaskan Sweepstakes which was founded by Allan Alexander Allan in 1908. The competition ran through to 1918 when it was discontinued because of the First World War.

In 1925, during the diphtheria epidemic in Nome, the only serum available was in Anchorage. Due to the fact that planes could not be used and steam ships would be too slow, a team of 20 mushers (drivers) with their dogs relayed the serum. Gunnar Kaasen and his lead dog Balto delivered the serum to Nome. This “race” was dubbed the “Great Race of Mercy”.

In 1964, Dorothy G. Page came up with the idea of a mushing race in the 100th anniversary of Alaska becoming a US state. Joe Redington Sr supported her and together with his wife cleared part of the trail. The race was held in 1967 and named Iditarod Trail Seppala Memorial Race. It was named after Leonard Seppala who took part in the Great Race of Mercy and was the winner in the 1915, 1916, and 1917 All Alaskan Sweepstakes. Isaac Okleasik won the 1967 race.

In 1973, the first official Iditarod race was organized by Redington, Tom Johnson, and Gleo Huyck.

Route of the Race

The original trail extended 938 miles from the town of Seward to Nome. The current trail runs through the Alaskan and Kuskokwim Mountain Ranges, along River Yukon and across frozen land, a total distance of about 1,100 miles. The course and route vary from year to year, and is constantly changed due to global warming effects on the ice and snow in Alaska. Various checkpoints are littered along the route for extra supplies and rest. The northern and southern routes of the trail merge in Kaltag from where the last dash of the race begins, which includes a mandatory eight hours rest at White Mountain.

Criticism of the Race

The Iditarod race has been faced with criticism from animal activist groups. They termed the race dog abuse and the death and injury of the dogs during the races is also frowned upon. Companies such as Wells Fargo withdrew support from the race, though no reason was given, it is believed to be due to complaints of animal cruelty.


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