|A team dog runs down the chute at the|
Start of Iditarod 44. Willow, AK.
A glance at the list spots many familiar names/faces on the list with names like Zirkle, Sass, Redington, Gebhardt, Jonrowe, among others - but it's interesting to note just how many names are off the list. Four time Iditarod Champion and cancer survivor Lance Mackey signed up back in June, but made the announcement in September that he was unable to run as planned. Cim Smyth also signed up only to later withdraw. Rohn Buser decided not to run this year, and the Busers seem to be downsizing their operation. There's a change of the guard looming, it seems, and this is likely going to be an exciting race for a lot of the newer front runners.
With the change of two rules this year for the race, new strategies may emerge that could bring the change quicker than expected. Iditarod rules now state that mushers can bring cell phones/two way communication out onto the trail. They are to be used to report an emergency only (the thought is if something like last year's attacks happen, the musher can call for help). Some mushers have spoken out against the rule change, worried that some teams will misuse the allowance. The board, however, feels the good outweighs the bad.
The other rule change came with as much if not more outcry - that of the rule that no dogs may be carried in a sled trailer. In the last few years since Jeff King first brought one to the race, mushers have built trailers to pull behind their sled to carry equipment and rest dogs on long runs. Mushers like Dallas Seavey seemed to have perfected the strategy to their advantage, keeping their dogs fresh and ready to run making longer rests in the checkpoint easier to bounce back on. Officials give the reason for the change as dog safety, but those that feel the rule directly affects them don't buy the explanation. Strategies will need to change for March, but don't expect that it will change the standings too much. The trailers are only one small element to a successful race.
There has been SOME good news as of late, however! The last few weeks have brought colder temperatures to South Central Alaska, and with those temps snow! Training is underway all over the state with many teams taking to social media to share photos of a winter sight that was once common place. Sure, there's still a long way to go before trails are ready for races, but should the weather continue to cooperate it looks like for the first time in a long while, the race season will be a full one.
92 days until Iditarod runs through Anchorage - who are you cheering for?
Edited: A late entry bumped the roster list to 77. Mail must've been slow.