Iditarod 2015: What you need to know right now

The 2015 Iditarod Sled Dog Race has a new, unique route that will begin in Fairbanks.

The 2015 Iditarod Sled Dog Race has a new, unique route that will begin in Fairbanks. [image courtesy Iditarod.com]

With recent news that the Iditarod 2015 restart will now occur in Fairbanks, the past 24 hours have been a frenetic race of its own by visitors, volunteers, media, and mushers. While the announcement was not entirely unexpected, it was five minutes of utter chaos to the thousands of individuals involved in the Last Great Race.

Fortunately, though, things seem to have settled down, the route is laid, a date set, and most of us who now will shuffle off to Fairbanks for the restart of Iditarod 2015 have at least created a basic plan of action. Some specifics are still under wraps, but as of today I have enough general information to share at least a few bits with you.

The Iditarod Trail is warming up, again.

The Iditarod Trail is warming up, again.

WHY IS THERE A RESTART? The Iditarod has for several years operated two starting events. One, called the Ceremonial Start, takes place the first Saturday in March in downtown Anchorage, leading teams from Fourth Avenue approximately 11 miles to the Campbell Airstrip in southeast Anchorage. This is the “showcase” event; fundraising and promotion are the name of the game, and the highest number of spectators line city streets and trails in the hopes of catching a glimpse of their favorite musher. Read a post from 2014 for more details about Ceremonial Start day. In 2015, this will be held on Saturday, March 7 at 10 a.m. 

The second start, called the “Official” or “Restart” event, is usually held the day after the Ceremonial start. Typically, on Sunday, teams depart from the frozen flanks of Willow Lake, bound for Nome. This is a more serious event for teams; sleds are packed, goodbyes are said, and the dogs and mushers all know this day is all business. It’s an opportunity for serious spectactors, too. This is the real deal for mushing fans.

Due to a lack of snow in 2014, which resulted in injuries, broken equipment, and near-death experiences by many teams, Iditarod 2015 was headed for a public relations meltdown if this, the lowest-snow year in decades, stuck to the original plan. On Tuesday, the Iditarod Board of Directors unanimously voted to move the Restart to Fairbanks, for only the second time in its history (the first was 2003).

Iditarod sled dogs don't care where the start is, they're just happy to go!

Iditarod sled dogs don’t care where the start is, they’re just happy to go!

WHEN IS THE RESTART? As Fairbanks is several hours and 350+ miles from Anchorage, teams, spectators, staff, and volunteers will need travel time. The 2015 Restart event is now scheduled for Monday, March 9, at 10 a.m.

WHERE IS THE RESTART? Iditarod 2015 will start teams from the Chena River, near Pike’s Landing, where Pike’s Waterfront Lodge conveniently sits. From there, teams will travel the Chena toward the Nenana river and town of Nenana, the first checkpoint, 60 miles away.

HOW CAN I GET THERE? It is a given that Alaska Airlines flights will be jam-packed, but a few flights are available on both Saturday and Sunday. Hurry. 

The Alaska Railroad is offering an expanded departure schedule from Anchorage to Fairbanks through March, and while this takes an entire day (12 hours), it can be a nice option for those who wish to capture a bit of Alaska’s winter wilderness before or after the start. Find the complete schedule HERE, or, enter the AKRR contest to NOW to win a pair of tickets to the start. Alaska residents always receive a discount of 20%, too.

Driving to Fairbanks is also an all-day prospect, but cheaper, and definitely easier in 2015, thanks to the lack of snow. Be sure to pack that emergency kit I talked up earlier in the week, though. One never knows what might happen along an Alaska highway, and with few services available, drivers must be able to independently care for their own needs until help arrives. Are you a AAA member? Call the Anchorage office at 907-344-4310 for assistance with preparation, maps, and even lodging options.

WHERE CAN I STAY? This is going to be tricky. Pike’s Lodge is full up (and it should be, it’s the closest place for folks to catch all the action). AK Kid and I will be taking advantage of the Hampton Inn’s pool, full breakfast, and free cookies. My advice? Visit the ExploreFairbanks.com website, make a list, and start calling, credit card in hand. We like Wedgewood Resort, Alpine Inn, Best Western, and Springhill Suites.

WHAT ABOUT THE WEATHER? Even though this is no ordinary winter, the city of Fairbanks just finished up a bitter cold snap, with temperatures dropping as low as 49F. Layering will be key, utilizing wool or synthetic base and mid layers, and making sure kids’ faces, fingers, and toes are protected. Invest in a box of chemical hand warmers, bring a thermos of cocoa, and take breaks indoors. Above all, cross your fingers for a day in the more “temperate” range of 0 to 10 above. That’s about right.

WHAT CAN WE DO FOR FUN? Yes, I realize not all children will relish an entire day spent standing at a fence line watching 79 dog teams rush by, even if the noise and chaos are exciting. Over the next week, I’ll be providing options for indoor and outdoor family fun in Fairbanks, including specials available for this unique Iditarod 2015 year. There’s talk of Fairbanks closing school for Restart day, because it’s that special, so I think kids will find plenty of awesome activities and experiences. In the meantime, check out some past posts about Fairbanks during the winter months HERE.

Moving the Restart from Willow to Fairbanks will be quite a switch, but the fun and noise will still be there!

Moving the Restart from Willow to Fairbanks will be quite a switch, but the fun and noise will still be there!

Good luck, mush on, and remember: This is Alaska, the land where anything can happen, and usually does!

~EK

Posted in Alaskan Winter Fun, Festivals and Events and tagged , , , .

One Comment

  1. The most important thing I need to figure out is how to walk down the street in Fairbanks without dying!

    No, really – I went there in March last year, and was pleasantly surprised at how walkable the city was, but the ground had a layer of compacted snow/ice that made things tricky. Luckily I managed to get by with only one major wipeout.

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