Lack of Snow Forces Iditarod Start Shuffle

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March 8, 2015

The 2015 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race began as usual, with opening ceremonies in Anchorage. But something was missing: the snow.

Alaska reported snowfall of only 20 inches this winter (way down from an average of 60 inches). Much of the rest of the U.S. might have appreciated such a snowfall total, but the sparseness of snow along the Iditarod route has left significant challenges for the mushers and their dog teams, in the form of exposed grass and gravel that could slow down progress.

Instead, mushers began their 1,000-mile trek to Nome not in Willow but in Fairbanks, 225 miles to the north. This is an odd-numbered year, and so competitors were scheduled to run the southern route.

Race organizers said that the only time in race history that the start was moved to Fairbanks was in 2003. The race started in 1973, and the original starting point was Wasilla. Because of a lack of snow, organizers in 2008 moved the start to Willow.

Even the Anchorage part of the trek, a ceremonial bit, was run over snow that had been trucked in from elsewhere.

Already, one first-timer has withdrawn, having not found enough snow to train her 16-dog team adequately. Two other veterans have withdrawn, leaving 78, 23 women and 55 men, on the start line.

Defending champion Dallas Seavey will be looking to repeat, perhaps even to better his record time of 8 days, 13 hours, 4 hours, 19 seconds, set last year.

Dallas's father, Mitch Seavey, is back for his 21st race. Mitch, a two-time champion, won in 2004 and 2013.

The field also includes four-time winner Jeff King and Aliy Zirkle, who has finished runner-up three years in a row.

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