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Iditarod dogs pack Anchorage for ceremonial start of 2022 race

Fans, dogs and mushers flocked to downtown Anchorage amid a snowstorm on Saturday to celebrate the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

The ceremonial launch was canceled last year because of the pandemic. This year, fans attending the 50th edition of the race were limited in their interaction with the participants, but were still able to watch from behind the fences as the mushers exited the starting line two minutes apart.

Mushers took a leisurely jaunt through Alaska’s largest city, waving to fans who lined the downtown streets. The competitive race for mushers and their dogs begins Sunday in Willow, about 120 kilometers north of Anchorage, with the winner expected in Nome about nine days later.

The mushers were required to show proof of vaccinations for the race this year, and they will be isolating at checkpoints to avoid bringing COVID-19 to the rural, mostly Alaskan villages along the nearly 1,000-mile route to Nome.

Some villages chose not to be checkpoints due to the ongoing pandemic, requiring mushers to bypass towns, while other arrangements were made in some communities. At White Mountain, where mushers must make an eight-hour stop before completing the final 77-mile (124-kilometer) run to Nome, the community building will not be used to house mushers awaiting the final push.

Sean Williams, a rookie musher from Chugiak, Alaska, leads his sled dogs through a snow storm in downtown Anchorage, Alaska.
Sean Williams, a rookie musher from Chugiak, Alaska, leads his sled dogs through a snow storm in downtown Anchorage, Alaska.
Markus Thiessen/AP
Hanna Lyrek, a musher from Alta, Norway, waves to fans as she leads her sled dogs through a snowstorm in downtown Anchorage, Alaska.
Hanna Lyrek, a musher from Alta, Norway, waves to fans during the race.
Markus Thiessen/AP

Instead, lumber was supplied and an elaborate tent camp was built, including new outbuildings, race marshal Mark Nordman said.

This year’s race features 49 mushers, including defending champion Dallas Seavey, who aims to make history as the first musher with six Iditarod titles. He is tied with Rick Swenson with five wins each. Win or lose, the 35-year-old revealed this is likely to be his last race for a while as he looks to spend more time with his teenage daughter.

Also in the running are two four-time winners, Martin Buser and Jeff King.

Matt Failor, a musher from Willow, Alaska, greets fans while leading his sled dogs through a snow storm in downtown Anchorage, Alaska.
Matt Failor, a musher from Willow, Alaska, waves to the fans.
Markus Thiessen/AP

King, who last raced in 2019, just this week took the place of Nic Petit, who announced on Facebook that he had contracted COVID-19. Mitch Seavey, a three-time winner and sire of Dallas, is also back this year, as is 2018 winner Joar Leifseth Ulsom and 2019 champion Pete Kaiser.

Fifteen mushers withdrew before the start of the race, including 2020 winner Thomas Waerner, who was not allowed to travel to the United States from his native Norway.

Musher Jaye Foucher retired after her sled dog team turned onto a busy Alaskan highway and collided with a pickup truck in January, killing one of the dogs and injuring three others.

Moose are a problem for the mushers on the trail this year. A heavy snow year in some parts of Alaska has made moose aggressive towards people in the backcountry, including mushers.

Five-time Iditarod Champion Dallas Seavey plays with Prophet, one of his guide dogs.
Five-time Iditarod Champion Dallas Seavey plays with Prophet, one of his guide dogs.
Markus Thiessen/AP

During a training run last month, rookie musher Bridgett Watkins had four of her dogs badly injured by a moose that wouldn’t walk away and at times stood over the dogs. The incident only ended when a friend shot the bull moose with a high-powered rifle.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals remains the race’s biggest critic and has caused the race some financial difficulties by targeting big-name companies that have hired sponsors. The Anchorage hotel, which has been the race’s headquarters for three decades, will relinquish its affiliation next year.

Officials at the Lakefront Anchorage Hotel blamed the pandemic’s impact on business for the change, but the move was announced by its owners, Millennium Hotels and Resorts, a day before PETA planned to protest outside the Millennium Knickerbocker Hotel Chicago.

To counteract that, Iditarod CEO Rob Urbach told reporters during a pre-race press conference that they’ve added six new sponsors this year.

“I think that’s a pretty big story for us,” he said.

https://nypost.com/2022/03/05/iditarod-dogs-pack-anchorage-ceremonial-start-of-2022-race/ Iditarod dogs pack Anchorage for ceremonial start of 2022 race

JOE HERNANDEZ

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