by Phillip Manning ~ February 10th, 2014
On Saturday, the Iditarod Trail Committee hinted at the possibility of moving the restart of the race from Willow to Fairbanks. Saturday’s statement says that the ceremonial start will take place on March 1st in Anchorage as planned, and that the current plan is to have the restart, where the competitive part of the race truly begins, in Willow the next day. There are concerns about trail quality between Rainy Pass and Nikolai. If conditions are not acceptable by the beginning of next week, the restart will be moved to Fairbanks on March 3rd.
Moving the start of the race could mean logistical challenges for race officials and mushers. In addition, many Mat-Su Valley businesses bring in significant income during the Iditarod. Lodgings in both the Core and Upper Valley are often booked in advance, in addition to money spent on food and entertainment. Some Iditarod fans and visitors from Outside will even charter planes to the Rainy Pass Lodge or other points along the trail in order to take in a first-hand experience of what is billed as “The Last Great Race on Earth.” If the restart is moved, much of that revenue could evaporate.
Talkeetna musher and Iditarod veteran Gerry Sousa says that while many don’t want to see the restart moved to Fairbanks, he believes it would be catastrophic to cancel the race altogether. He participated in the race in 2003, when the restart did get moved to Fairbanks, and says that food drops and other logistics for checkpoints before Ruby are being held until a final course decision is made. Sousa, who is not running the race this year, says that warm weather this winter has made for one of the worst years for training conditions he has ever seen.
Now, race officials, mushers, fans, and business owners will be watching the weather forecast, hoping for good news. A final decision is expected sometime next Monday.