The 2022 Iditarod starts this weekend

A pair of excited
Hundreds of sled dogs parade through Anchorage for the 2020 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race ceremonial start. (Photo by Joey Mendolia/Alaska Public Media)

The 2022 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race kicks off Saturday with a ceremonial start in Anchorage followed by the official race start in Willow on Sunday.

The race, in some ways, is back to normal: Mushers are again dashing 1,000 miles to Nome.

But in other ways, it’s still marked by the COVID-19 pandemic: Vaccination is mandatory, as is testing before the race starts and along the trail.

Here’s what to know about the 2022 Iditarod.

When will the Iditarod start?

The race begins with an 11-mile ceremonial start in Anchorage on Saturday, March 5.

Mushers and their sled dogs will get ready on the streets of downtown Anchorage early that morning for the parade-like event.

A dog team running on an Anchorage street
Iditarod musher Meredith Mapes at the 2020 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race ceremonial start. (Photo by Joey Mendolia/Alaska Public Media)

Starting at 10 a.m., they’ll take off one-by-one every couple minutes from Fourth Avenue, near D Street. They’ll head down onto city trails and end at the Campbell Airstrip. Here are some spots to watch from.

Then, mushers and their sled dogs will truck north to Willow for the official race start on Willow Lake, which begins at 2 p.m on Sunday. Teams will again leave at two-minute intervals, starting their long-distance run to Nome.

Race officials are encouraging fans to attend both events, but ask that they wear masks. They’re also not allowing the public in the area where mushers get ready for both the ceremonial and official race starts.

What’s the trail route this year?

Mushers are back on the northern route.

That means their checkpoints include stops in communities such Ruby, Galena and Nulato on their way to Nome.

A map showing the Iditarod course to Nome
(Iditarod.com)

There are a few changes to the checkpoints, however, due to COVID-19.

Takotna — a village about 330 miles into the race — opted to not be a checkpoint this year to avoid COVID-19 spread. Instead, mushers will pass by and go straight to Ophir.

And at White Mountain, just 77 miles from the finish line, teams will take their 8-hour breaks in a heated tent on the river instead of closer to town.

How are conditions?

Trail breakers passed through the Iditarod route on snowmachines about two weeks ago and found excellent conditions, according to race marshal Mark Nordman.

It’s not totally clear how more recent weather has affected the course.

A pair of sled dogs in harness, with icy muzzles
Frosty dogs on Richie Diehl’s team in Nikolai during the 2020 Iditarod. The village serves as a race checkpoint about 260 miles into the trail. (Photo by Zachariah Hughes/Alaska Public Media)

On Wednesday, Nordman said he had heard some reports of snow melting in places like the treacherous and zig-zagging Dalzell Gorge and near the community of Nikolai.

Meanwhile, closer to the start in Willow, heavy snow in the past few weeks has pushed moose onto mushing trails, putting mushers on high alert

Will mushers get tested for COVID-19 during the race?

Yes.

Mushers got tested on Thursday with molecular COVID-19 tests. They will also be required to get rapid tests at the ceremonial start in Anchorage on Saturday and again at the official start in Willow on Sunday.

A woman wearing a purple toque and a face shield sticks a nasal swab up a man's nose, outdoors
Musher Jeremy Traska gets a rapid COVID test outside the Lakefront Hotel in Anchorage ahead of the 2021 Iditarod. (Photo by Hannah Lies/Alaska Public Media)

Plus, they’ll be tested in McGrath — about a third of the way into the race.

What happens if mushers test positive?

If mushers test positive on any of their required rapid tests, they’ll be retested with a molecular test to confirm the result and have to immediately isolate. Last year, a musher was forced to withdraw from the race after he tested positive at the McGrath checkpoint.

What other COVID-19 protocols are in place?

There are strict vaccination and daily testing requirements for volunteers, race officials and official media, like the Iditarod Insider, who will be at checkpoints along the course.

Those groups will be part of the Iditarod bubble. According to the race’s COVID-19 prevention plan, people inside the bubble will wear armbands to show they’ve met the requirements. They’re also required to wear masks when in contact with people who are outside of the bubble and are “highly encouraged” to wear masks any time they are indoors. And they’re required to submit a daily questionnaire to ensure that they don’t have any symptoms. Mushers “should” wear masks when in contact with people outside of the bubble, according to the plan.

Who’s competing in this year’s race?

There are 49 mushers signed up, Six past champions are among the racers, including reigning Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey, who notched his fifth win last year.

Dallas Seavey poses with his dogs North, left, and Gamble. Seavey arrived in Willow to win the 2021 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on March 15, 2021. (Photo by Marc Lester/ADN)

The other former champions are Dallas Seavey’s dad, three-time champion Mitch Seavey, Pete Kaiser, Joar Leifseth Ulsom, Martin Buser and Jeff King. (King got tapped to race the Iditarod just days before the competition. He’s taking Nic Petit’s dog team after Petit tested positive for COVID-19.)

Other top contenders looking to unseat Dallas Seavey include three-time Yukon Quest winner Brent Sass and last year’s second-place Iditarod finisher Aaron Burmeister.

How can I follow the 2022 Iditarod?

Bookmark alaskapublic.org/Iditarod. Alaska Public Media reporter Lex Treinen and photojournalist Jeff Chen are headed out on the trail this year. They’ll have stories and photos on the Alaska Public Media website.

An extremely excited dog team in downtown Anchorage, with one dog leaping high into the air
Musher Jeremy Keller’s sled dog leaps into the air at the 2020 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race ceremonial start. (Photo by Zachariah Hughes/Alaska Public Media)

Plus, keep an eye out for the latest episodes of the Iditapod podcast, now in its sixth season. You can subscribe on iTunes or Spotify. And Alaska Public Media is launching a new Iditarod newsletter.

Other local news outlets will also be following the race, and there’s coverage provided by the Iditarod itself on iditarod.com.

Alaska Public Media

Alaska Public Media is our partner station in Anchorage. KTOO collaborates with partners across the state to cover important news and to share stories with our audiences.

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