Iditarod Ceremonial Start|First Saturday in March
Each March, on the first Saturday, the Iditarod dog sled race ceremonial start is held in Anchorage, Alaska. This is a major event for Alaskans, who consider dog sled racing their state sport. They don’t have a football or basketball team to cheer for, but they know the mushers and even the dogs by name, discussing and analyzing their stats and strategies at dinner and at bars. There are local favorites, of course, and even some family traditions. The Seavey family has four different sleds/mushers entered in this year’s race.
The ceremonial starts is much like a parade in that each musher, in their actual race order claimed at the musher’s banquet, will cross the starting line on 4th Street in Anchorage with their sled and up to 12 members of the dog team. Each team will have the musher, wearing his or her numbered pinny, as well as an honored guest riding along. The guest was selected for this distinction through an online bidding raffle. The most sought after seats, riding in previous Iditarod winner’s sleds, sold for up to $7500 each with all proceeds going to the Iditarod committee for expenses such as trail management, rest stop needs and veterinarian care. Most, if not all, dog teams will consist of 16 dogs and one musher when they leave on the post start from Willow on the next day, the true start of the competitive race.
A celebration of a local tradition, with thousands of residents and visitors lining the streets and watching from above in apartments, parking garages and roofs, the mushers head out on their first 10 mile leg of a thousand mile journey to Nome Alaska. All year long, the city of Anchorage is plowing and hauling snow out of the city to keep roads clear and businesses open. Then, on the eve of the ceremonial start, truckloads of snow are brought into the city to line the main street as well as many side roads with enough snow to allow the teams to safely pass.
Once the start is declared, at 10 o’clock, the mushers are announced by name and number as well as previous race honors and history. They then cross the starting line, two minutes apart, beginning their long and dangerous race. Another start, called the post start, will take place one day later from Willow, Alaska, where the sixty or more dog teams will depart into the wilderness, two minutes apart, on their competitive race which will last approximately 10 days.
This year was my first to be a part of the Iditarod. I stood on the sidelines, with signs to root on my favorite teams, and felt the excitement build as the streets became more and more packed with people of every age cheering. This really was a once in a lifetime opportunity, one that shouldn’t be missed.
Please call 603-434-8100 for help planning your adventure.