Iditarod officials have made their decision, saying The Last Great Race will start in Willow after all this year despite undesirable weather and trail conditions.
“Well, the outcome after a lot of careful consideration is we’re going to be able to restart the race in Willow,” said Stan Hooley, the Iditarod's executive director.
Iditarod officials debated for over two hours Monday about where to restart the race. Rerouting to Fairbanks was an option, but race officials are staying with tradition and sticking with Willow.
“We think we can transform what today is a poor trail into something that is very safe and very usable come race day,” Hooley said.
Some competitors, though, worry that icy conditions could be dangerous for both mushers and their dogs.
Monica Zappa, a rookie musher set to race in this year’s Iditarod, fears having the restart in Willow could be treacherous for her and her team.
“I’m wondering if I should wear a helmet actually,” Zappa said.
According to Zappa the safety of her dogs is her main concern, but with this year’s lack of snow and icy conditions, she worries her sled could face problems.
“The sled is what keeps them in control -- if you can keep them slowed down, then your dogs are going to have a lot better chance of not getting hurt,” Zappa said. “They get hurt when you can’t keep them under control and when you go too fast.”
Other racers competing in this year’s Iditarod are also preparing for the worst.
This will be Karin Hendrickson’s sixth Iditarod, and she’s OK with restarting in Willow. She says she’s heard predictions of a rough trail in years past.
“The one thing I do know is every year we hear how horrendous the conditions are going to be and how terrible it’s going to be," Hendrickson said. "Then we get out there and there are always bad places, but it’s never as bad as it anticipates."
Hendrickson admits that this year, unlike any other year, she’s packing more Advil because she predicts it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
“(I'll be) looking over my first aid kit and my tool kit and making sure I have everything I need for a rough ride,” Hendrickson said.
Some heavy duty work needs to be done to the trails, but race officials say they are confident they have the right equipment and manpower to have The Last Great Race -- and to have it as safe as possible.
This year’s race will follow the Northern Route but will involve some rerouting.
From Yentna Station, mushers will take on an overland trail on the Skwentna. Race officials say doing this will hopefully avoid nearly all of the icy river conditions.
The ceremonial start of the race will still be held in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1 at 10 a.m. The restart will be in Willow at 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 2.