10Best Explores the Iditarod: Alaska's Greatest Sport

The last great race spans over 1,100 miles of Alaskan wilderness

Winter Travel Expert

There are a few things that really define the largest state in the US: the Northern Lights, a really long pipeline, some very tall mountains and a Herculean race headed by team of dogs. The over-1,150-mile Alaskan dog sled race, Iditarod, has been running every year since 1973 and will take place in 2013 on March 3.

Each year, the race direction switches.  On even years, the mushers and their teams head north from the ceremonial start of Anchorage to the small village of Willow, and then up the interior to Nome. On odd years, the trail heads south from Nome to Anchorage.

A team of Iditarod sled dogs — Photo courtesy of Alaskan Dude

For the 2013 race, there will be 68 mushers from all over Alaska, Norway, Russia and Brazil running the race in about 9-15 days. Each musher will have a team of 12-16 dogs that will push on through deep snow, over mountains, across frozen rivers and through blizzards and sub-zero temperatures.

In the Iditarod, which is Shageluk Indian for "clear water," the dogs are the heroes and some reach minor celebrity status in the state. Most sled dogs are mix-breed huskies bred for strength, tough feet, endurance and a good attitude. The most popular racing breed is the Siberian Husky. The musher and his or her team travel with a minimal amount of gear which includes an Arctic parka, a sleeping bag, an axe, snowshoes, food for the musher and the dogs, and boots for the dogs' feet.

An Iditarod dog sled team — Photo courtesy of Alaskan Dude

If you're interested in viewing the race from the comfort of your own Arctic parka, there are several ways you can go. One of the best ways might be as an actual sled passenger. During the 2013 race, you can put in an auction bid for a space on a musher's sled from the race start in Anchorage and over 11 miles of the trace trail.

If you don't win the auction, another good location to watch the end of the Iditarod is at Crystal Lake near the town of Willow, which is about 45 miles outside of Anchorage. It's away from the crowds in a beautiful location. Another tip for race-viewing is to make sure you have access to a snowmobile and visit one or two of the 26 checkpoints over the course of the trail.

You can also just hang out in Nome or Anchorage to see racers either leave the starting line or cross the finish line. There are numerous hotels in Anchorage, and the people of Nome will open up their homes for the Iditarod Overflow Housing Program.

About Christina Nellemann

Christina Nellemann loves the snow and wouldn't mind waiting in a giant parka for a glimpse of an Iditarod racer.

Read more about Christina Nellemann here.

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