Monday, October 28, 2019

Movie Review: The Great Alaskan Race

The story has been told before. Hollywood has made its spin on the heroic story of the Serum Run several times over the past 90 years. Each time it has been deemed as not dramatic enough as is, and they add to the story. Each time Balto, the dog who would lead the final team on the final leg into Nome, is the named canine hero - and Gunar the heroic human.

This time the independent film with a nationwide release takes a greater look at the Serum Run canine hero Togo and his human Leonhard Seppala. This is typically not the route the story tellers go. After all, it was Balto who ran the AntiToxin Serum down "front street", but it was Togo who ran the furthest distance. Only true historians and mushing enthusiasts even seem to know the name Togo, so it was no surprise that the child I went to this movie with was confused when "Sep" kept talking about his awesome lead dog Togo.

The film starts with the note that the film is "Based on the True Story". This is Hollywood Speak for "yeah we didn't find the story compelling enough without embellishing". If you're a history buff, the "warning" can make you cringe because you expect the worst. The movie does change Seppala's story a bit with becoming a widower early in life and being angry at the world for it. It feels like they felt they needed to humanize a man that is more legend in history than human. The pacing of the film as they bring this emotional part of the story to light goes a little slow, but works to establish what motivates the film's hero.

Playing Leonhard Seppala is Brian Presley, who also wrote, directed and produced the film. He looks a little like Stephen Amell (Arrow) with the mountain man appearance. Presley's take on Seppala is as a romantic turned hard due to the loss of his wife. He grumbles, seems angry all the time, and runs head strong into danger. The one constant is his love and loyalty to his dog Togo and his daughter whom he has to save from the Diphtheria outbreak.

The movie does not fully go into the history of the dogs in the relay and the danger they faced. They do make mention of the storm and how dangerous negative temps can be, but we don't see a whole lot of the struggle the teams faced other than Seppala shivering in the cold and his face getting frostbite sores. The film only shows one child passing, but doesn't fully grasp the full impact. While there was the drama of getting the serum in time, it sometimes was lost as the film continued to focus on Seppala's grief (most of his flashbacks involve his late wife).

If you're worried about seeing trauma or death to the dogs - none of that is shown. Togo becomes tired and needs to rest in the sled but it's split second, blink and you miss it. There isn't anything that should trigger emotion based on the dogs - until the end when the real dogs are tributed through historic footage and photography. I dare any dog or mushing enthusiast not to have a sense of pride for what these four legged athletes accomplished. Working dogs are incredible.

The most positive part of the film is the spotlight brought to Togo and Seppala. Sitting with a 10 year old movie goer, she was very confused at the beginning when the focus was on a dog named Togo. After several questions of "but where is Balto" I finally leaned over and said he comes in only at the end. She was emotionally invested in the plight of the children - and was quite upset when one of them died - and cheered as the team ran into Nome (I did manage to point out that Balto was leading). When the film ends with some factoids about the dogs and mentions the Balto having a statue in New York City's Central Park, my young friend got on her soapbox and declared it completely unfair that Togo did not get the honor considering how far Togo traveled.

The film is supposed to be about the amazing feat that the teams of sled dogs accomplished in saving the town of Nome, but a lot is focused on Seppala's grief. A lot of the politics of the event were also rushed through. It would have been interesting to meet some of the other players, they did give a couple of the mushers a few lines - and some great musher attitude - but the film bounced quickly back to Seppala's plight as a father and widower. One of the more interesting parts of the story was the governor's battle over who was going to get the serum to Nome: the dogs or an airplane. The Governor of Alaska makes mention of "the lower 48" not understanding how Alaska works, while the pro-airplane guy (the news paper editor? I couldn't figure it out) kept saying that Alaska was the laughing stock of the world because they wouldn't fly planes.

Creative license is always the right of the storyteller, and while I may have done it differently, Presley's film hits the mark in most ways. The mispronunciations of Alaskan towns and villages will give Alaskans a chuckle, but will be lost on those not familiar. The historical inaccuracies are mainly ones that have been around for decades - and probably existed as history was unfolding. One fact that needs pointing out is the film claiming that the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is run each year to commemorate the Serum Run - while this "fact" is often shared, it is not true. Official News of the Last Great Race detailed the history of the start of the race in a recent article to clear up confusion.

The film is a good matinee, and one worthy of the big screen. It has a nationwide release in the states with a hope to expand into Canada judging by their comments on social media. If nothing else it's a good excuse for a trip to get movie popcorn, but I feel most movie goers will be happy with the film. I hope this review doesn't come off sounding too down on the film, because I did enjoy the movie for what it was.

Have you seen The Great Alaskan Race? Tell me what you thought in the comments below.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Skaters at Skate America 2019

This is just really for me as I will be attending Skate America next month (first time for me to attend an international competition AND my first trip to Vegas). I like to have an idea of what the programs look like, especially since I hope to snap quite a few pictures. I can't help it, I love the challenge of shooting sports! I know people say to make sure to enjoy the moment and not just live through the camera, but I really do enjoy it so much more when I'm also trying to get the shot. I'm weird.

Here's hoping the lists don't change much due to injury. I've got 28 days till I'm in Vegas!


Bradie Tennell skates her Long Program.
2018 US National Championships
San Jose, CA / January 5, 2018
Veronik MALLET (CAN)
Short Program / Long Program

Short Program / Long Program

Short Program / Long Program

Short Program / Long Program

Short Program / Long Program

Eunsoo LIM (KOR)
Short Program / Long Program

Short Program / Long Program

Short Program / Long Program

Short Program / Long Program

Karen CHEN (USA)
Short Program / Long Program

Short Program / Long Program

Short Program / Long Program


Nathan Chen skates his Short Program.
2018 US National Championships
San Jose, CA / January 4, 2018
Short Program / Long Program

Boyang JIN (CHN)
Short Program / Long Program

Short Program / Long Program

Short Program / Long Program

Short Program / Long Program

Short Program / Long Program

Junhwan CHA (KOR)
Short Program / Long Program

Dmitri ALIEV (RUS)
Short Program / Long Program

Short Program / Long Program

Short Program / Long Program

Nathan CHEN (USA)
Short Program / Long Program

Short Program / Long Program


Ashley Cain & Timothy LeDuc's Free Program
2018 US National Championships
San Jose, CA / January 5, 2018
Short Program / Long Program

Camille RUEST/Andrew WOLFE (CAN)
Short Program / Long Program

Cheng PENG/Yang JIN (CHN)
Short Program / Long Program

Short Program / Long Program

Natalia ZABIIAKO/Alexander ENBERT (RUS)
Short Program / Long Program

Short Program / Long Program

Short Program / Long Program

Short Program / Long Program


Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue's Short Dance
2018 US National Championships
San Jose, CA / January 4, 2018
Rhythm Dance / Free Dance

Hong CHEN / Zhuoming SUN (CHN)
Rhythm Dance / Free Dance

Marie-Jade LAURIAULT / Romain LE GAC  (FRA)
Rhythm Dance / Free Dance

Rhythm Dance / Free Dance

Alexandra STEPANOVA / Ivan BUKIN (RUS)
Rhythm Dance / Free Dance

Rhythm Dance / Free Dance

Olivia SMART / Adrian DIAZ  (ESP)
Rhythm Dance / Free Dance

Rhythm Dance / Free Dance

Madison HUBBELL / Zachary DONOHUE (USA)
Rhythm Dance / Free Dance

Caroline GREEN/ Michael PARSONS (USA)
Rhythm Dance / Free Dance

Friday, September 13, 2019

Serum Run film partners with Iditarod Trail race

In a press release shared this afternoon, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race announced it was partnering with P12 Films to bring the company's film "The Great Alaskan Race" to theaters with a nation-wide release this fall. The film is a retelling of the real life story of the 1925 Serum Run to Nome that made Balto the husky a household name. "The Great Alaskan Race" will follow Leonhard Seppala, Togo and Balto as they brave the Alaskan trails to bring the antitoxin back to Nome to save the village children.

P12 has also partnered with the premiere long distance stage stop race in the Lower 48, the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon. They have also partnered with Iditarod finisher Rick Casillo's charity Battle Dawgs that supports US Veterans as they navigate life after war.

“On behalf of the Iditarod Board of Directors, mushers, volunteers, and the entire “Iditarod Nation” – we would like to extend our thanks to P12 Films”, said Rob Urbach, CEO of the Iditarod Trail Committee. “We believe our partnership with P12 will help advance awareness about one of the greatest athletes on the planet, and our ongoing commitment raise awareness about the standards of animal welfare that exist in our event and our culture.”

Director/Writer/Producer Brian Presley (who is CEO and Founder of P12 and also stars in the film) said that partnering with the Iditarod was a "no brainer." Citing Iditarod's continued work and research to improve the care of dogs as a main factor in the partnership, Presley stated, "We at P12 Films wanted to provide a new platform for them to voice that mission to a more general audience.”

The film premieres October 25, 2019 in at least 500 markets across the country including the city where the Iditarod begins - Anchorage, AK. There are plans to have a private screening at UAA prior to the premiere, and Iditarod promises to share the details of other events soon.

Do you plan to see the movie? Have you seen the trailer? What are your thoughts on this latest partnership? Comment below!

Tustumena 200 cancelled for 2020, future of race unknown

Hal Hanson's team charges down the trail at the start of the Tustumena 200.
Caribou Hills, January 26, 2019.
Rumors are all but officially confirmed today as reigning Tustumena 200 champion Dave Turner took to social media to share an email he received from the event organizers:

"The Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race Association Board of Directors has decided that we will not have a race in 2020. The current board will take some time to reevaluate the future of the T200. We encourage you to support all the amazing sled dog races in Alaska.
Thank you for your support, we hope to reorganize and come back with something in 2021. Our Facebook and website will stay active, please check back for additional information."

The race had its share of problems in the last few years. Poor winter conditions lead to several races being cancelled due to warm weather and lack of snow for a trail. The race saw a significant change in course to counteract the effects of global warming, with the start and finish moving from Kasilof to the Caribou Hills where snow pack stayed relatively unaffected while in the lower parts of the trail were rained on. Freddie's Roadhouse became the hub, hosting the start, finish, and half way checkpoint in last year's race, and all seemed good to go for the 2020 season.

Then things took a wonky turn when Freddie packed up and left the Hills after a heated election cycle this spring for the Caribou Hills Cabin Hoppers. Freddie felt that his family and business were not respected by those in the area and decided to close his doors. With the closure of the roadhouse, the future of the Tustumena 200 was already a concern to fans and mushers alike. 

The Tustumena 200 started in 1984 when Dean Osmar decided to create a race to help his son, Tim, acquire the required number of miles needed to qualify for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race (which at that time was 500miles). Originally the "winner's purse" consisted of a case of beer. In 1994 the race was reorganized to become the race as mushers and fans know it today. It was a joint effort by Suzie Cook (Tustumena Lodge) and Evy Gebhardt (who was, at the time, married to local Iditarod musher Paul Gebhardt). 

For thirty years (several races were cancelled due to lack of trail due to weather) the Tustumena 200 was used as an Iditarod and Yukon Quest qualifier. Most mushers would claim the T200 as a great training run for the first part of the Iditarod with all of its miles in the Caribou Hills. It promised to be the hardest 200 mile race, and it rarely disappointed. Whenever it was discussed of making it a 250-300 mile race, mushers were often heard responding with "are you crazy?!"

Iditarod champions such as Jeff King and Lance Mackey were known to travel from their homes in Fairbanks/Denali to compete, and some near photo finishes happened a time or two. It was a premiere sporting event for the Kenai Peninsula for years. Fans followed the race as it changed the physical course, and mushers continued to come in record number - many years the race had a waiting list several teams deep.

The sport of mushing has had a lot of hits recently with the pressure from Animal Rights Groups waging war with the races, sponsors pulling out, and global warming concerns. There are fewer mid-distance races every year, and those that continue often have last minute cancellations when the weather turns foul (or winter never comes). With fewer qualifying races, rookie mushers are having a harder time qualifying for the 1,000 mile sled dog races. The T200 is one of the longest running qualifying races, and this is a huge blow for the mushing and race community.

Keep checking back for more info as it becomes available.

ETA: Soon after Turner took to social media with the news, the Tustumena 200 took to their facebook page to announce the cancelled 2020 race.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Handler Wanted

Tustumena 200 Champion, Dave Turner, is looking for a handler for the winter season. Contact the musher for more details.

Friday, August 2, 2019

2019/20 Sled Dog Race Season

Summer is winding down, and before we know it it will be the fall training season. Mushers are no doubt counting the days to cooler temps and getting back to the dogs. The fireweed is in full bloom and tall, predicting an early fall and a deep snow winter (we'll see if that old wives tale holds true). With all of that in mind it's time to start paying attention to the 2019/20 Sled Dog Race season! Below are the dates and links to many of the races set. Most are Iditarod or Yukon Quest qualifiers, all celebrate one of the greatest winter sports.

Knik 200*
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

Gunflint Mail Run
January 11, 2020
Website / Twitter / Facebook

MUSH Synnfjell
January 5, 2020
Website / Twitter / Facebook

Copper Basin 300*
January 11, 2020
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

Two Rivers 100/200*

Kuskokwim 300*
January 17, 2020
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

Caribou Classic Sled Dog Race
January 17, 2020

Eagle Cap Extreme Sled Dog Race*
January 22, 2019
Website / Facebook 

Tustumena 200*
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon*
January 26, 2020
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

Willow 300*
January 30, 2020
Website / Facebook 

February 1, 2020
Website / Facebook 

Yukon Quest*
February 1, 2020
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

Yukon 300*
February 1, 2020
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

Bergebyløpet N70
February 4, 2020
Website / Twitter / Facebook

Amundsen Race*
TBA 2020
Website / Facebook 

Race to the Sky*
February 2020
Website / Facebook 

February 13, 2020
Website / Facebook 

Canadian Challenge*
February 18, 2020
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

Junior Iditarod
February 29, 2020

Iditarod 47*
March 7, 2020
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

Can-Am Crown International*
February 29, 2020
Website / Facebook 

March 6, 2020
Website / Facebook 

Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Run*
March 20, 2020
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

Nome to Council 200*
March 27, 2020

Kobuk 440*
TBA, April 2020
Website / Facebook

*Iditarod/Yukon Quest Qualifying Race

Did I miss your favorite race? Comment below and let me know of races I need to add.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Where to watch - The Iditarod Restart

Willow Restart, March 2018.
If you've ever experienced the double start of the Iditarod (Ceremonial and ReStart) you know that both offer a completely different vibe. The Ceremonial is a party and relaxed (as much as one can be as you prepare to drive a dog team through the largest city in the state) with celebrations and high fives. The Re-Start has a bit of that as well, but it's all business. This is the last time mushers will have a team of handlers to help get the team ready, the last time they'll have someone else cooking their meals or snacking their dogs, the last time they'll have had the chance to have a good night's sleep (let's face it, they don't sleep the night before). While the crowd is all about "trailgating" and parties along the trail on both days, the mushers are more focused on the race as they leave Willow Lake for 990+ miles of wilderness travel with 14 of their best friends.

When to get there

While teams don't leave the lake until 2pm AKST, a lot of prep has to happen before hand. Most teams are on the lake no later than 10am. To beat the traffic it's recommended to get there as early as possible. The start isn't the only thing going on. The community center (which is right there on the lake) hosts a pancake breakfast and a craft fair. There are also food trucks in the parking lot. The community of Willow takes the opportunity to show off the "mushing capitol of the World", take time to mingle. 

The staging area for the mushers is not accessible to the general public, but you can walk around it. The barriers are just the plastic fencing, and the trucks park along it. You just cannot walk INTO the staging area. Most teams get there early and some mushers are willing to chat with fans at the fencing, but remember that this is race day and they are focused on last minute details. This is where the media gets in their face for that last soundbite, and where they schmooze with sponsors one last time.

Still it is interesting to see the different styles of preparation as the start draws near. Some, like Martin Buser, look like they're trailgating with the rest of us. Others are all business (hello, Mitch Seavey). You can see the dogs, see the "celebrities", etc. Get there by 10am, the longer you wait, the more people will be wandering around the fencing and it's harder to get a good spot to watch.

Where to watch

This gets tricky because in order to get further out away from the crowd you have to have transportation, but then you miss the energy from hearing GO! and the dogs and all of that. So we'll just focus really on where you can watch on the lake. There is orange fencing that lines the trail off the lake, so you can at least know where they will be. At intervals there are "gates" that allow you to cross to the other side of the trail.

Some sections are closed for private groups, these are typically set up right by the start line. If you are lucky enough to tour with someone like Salmon Berry Tours, they have a tent set up with goodies (and a little warmth) as well as a shuttle to and from Willow (which is a huge plus!). There is also a media box close by as well, so you may not be able to get as close to teh starting line as you'd think... BUT! you can get lucky, especially if you slip in (or go behind the line) in the last few minutes before go time.

If you don't mind the walk you can walk the length of the fencing and find a comfortable spot that suits you. You cannot lean over the fencing or put your camera inside the fencing, so keep that in mind. A lot of onlookers will do this, but give the race the respect and the volunteers the love they deserve. If you are really adventurous (and don't mind the long walk) you can cross the lake and head up into the trees. The fencing goes away and you can watch as they cross roadways down the trail.

If you have the ability and don't get caught up watching the action in the staging area, you can travel via snow machine or ski or car and watch as they run through the Mat-Su valley. Deshka Landing is a favorite spot of race goers. You can also look into cabins along the trail that you can snowshoe into. Though, if this is your first time to the restart, I suggest staying on Willow lake and not trying to see it away from the start line. The energy is something one must experience at least once.

How to get there 

The Iditarod offers a shuttle to and from the ReStart. They have shuttles going from Anchorage, Houston (Alaska, not Texas), Wasilla, and Talkeetna. Standard fare for Anchorage (which picks up at the Lakefront) is $25, and $2 for everywhere else. The shuttles are typically elementary school buses, so be prepared for them to be packed and cramped.

There are also tours like Salmon Berry who will shuttle you to and from the restart, and treat you well. There is a little more breathing room, and treats are involved!

You can also drive. If coming from Anchorage plan about two hours of driving time on the way to the start, and at least two and a half closer to three on the way home (traffic is SLOW until you get past Wasilla, and if there's an accident just be prepared to be there a LONG while). There is parking provided across the street from the community center, and they charge $10 for parking now.


If you can stay in one of the closer towns (Wasilla or Big Lake or even Talkeetna) and take the shuttle in, that will help a lot. Anchorage is fantastic but it can be a real hassle traveling to and from the restart.

If you can't swing the drive yourself from Anchorage, try to find a tour that will take you. A lot easier than being on Iditarod's shuttle schedule.

Be prepared to walk, in deep sometimes very slushy snow. The lake often experiences overflow... and you don't know you're going to step in it sometimes... until you do. This is especially the case when you are around the musher's staging area.

If you plan on bringing an atv or snow machine, check out the Willow Trails Committee group on facebook to find out the dos and don'ts of where to go, how to park, what trails to ride on, etc.

Where's your favorite spot to watch? Have any tips to share? Comment below!

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Where to watch Iditarod - Online

Alaskan Husky
Champion Sled Dog - Feb 25, 2019.
So maybe you can't make it to Alaska to see the Last Great Race, or you've come up for the start but now you're back home and want to keep tabs. Thanks to the invention of the Internet, it's a whole lot easier to follow the race than it was 20 years ago (or more). Still, you may not know exactly where to look, so here's a basic rundown on sites that will be sure to give you the best information.

Official Links

This should come as no surprise, but the best and most accurate information can be found from The Official website keeps the standings as current as possible (logistics of some of the checkpoints can cause delays), as well as offer ways to follow the race "in real time" or close to it. The biggest downfall is in order to truly follow along with the race you have to be able and willing to pay for a subscription to the Iditarod Insider. There are several levels of subscription.

Free - If all you want is to follow your favorite musher, you can sign up for free and receive updates on their race via email. You will only get official standings, so you won't get info while they travel in between checkpoints, no interviews, etc. Basically you get to experience the Iditarod the way fans did before Insider existed. They DO offer a few videos (with commercial breaks) and articles, but you're getting the bare minimum with this option.

Video Insider - For just $19.95 you get all of the videos commercial free, some of which are live feeds, and you can get up to five mushers updates in your email. Videos include interviews with different mushers on the trail, trail updates from the commentary team (Bruce and Greg do a very good job of explaining the race), as well as some beautiful montages of the scenery and dogs.

GPS Insider - If you follow other races, you'll know how important the GPS trackers are. Unless you like watching the race like we did in the 80s and 90s, waiting for new updates of official times in and out of checkpoints as your only guide, then this may be the option for you. Watching teams travel towards Nome becomes addicting, and frustrating, and exciting, and nerve-wracking. Like the video insider, the cost is $19.95, you also get to choose up to five mushers to follow, and you have access to a few videos with commercials.

Ultimate Insider - For a small savings, you can get both the GPS and Video for $33.95. If you can swing the cost, this is most definitely your best option. If you want to keep up-to-date with the race, it's a must. If you're into analyzing, it's a must. If you like being completely obsessed with mushing, it's a must. Both the video and ultimate insider get the live feeds of the start and the finish. Each finish in Nome goes live, though only the champion gets the bells and whistles. The rest are done with a webcam on the burled arch. Ultimate Insider also allows you to follow up to five mushers with email updates.

News Media

KTVA - The official TV Station for the Iditarod is the Anchorage CBS Affiliate. Being owned by Iditarod Sponsor GCI has its perks. They have updates every few hours throughout the race, as well as musher profiles and interviews. They have a dedicated page on their site for all of their Iditarod coverage.

KTUU - Before GCI bought KTVA, KTUU was the official channel for all things Iditarod. Their coverage is pretty stellar even without the title. They live feed the finish, though not at the same angle as the Insider/KTVA feed. Still, if you can't afford the Insider, this is the next best thing. Honestly, I prefer KTUU to the official channel. Not for any real reason other than I feel they have more coverage, plus I like more of their reporters. I'm biased, and proud. They, too, have a dedicated Iditarod section on their website.

Anchorage Daily News - The largest newspaper in the state is also the largest source of print media surrounding the race. They now require a subscription to be able to read their articles (I believe you get five free reads before they lock it down), and at $1.99 an article it can add up. However, they are advertising a Rondy & Iditarod special for $11.99. They, like the others, have a dedicated page for Iditarod (and Rondy).

Iditapod - Alaska Public Media is in their third season of hosting a podcast all about Iditarod. A lot of work goes into not only the podcast but their social media coverage of the race. They have a dedicated page for all things Iditarod, and you can find the podcast on iTunes (FREE!).

Dog Works Radio - Another fantastic podcast by musher Robert Forto and Iditarod documentarian Alex Stein. During Iditarod they have a podcast dedicated to the race.

KNOM Radio - On the other side of the state where teams finish is this awesome radio station that covers the race as well. They typically broadcast the finish of the winner, as well as do a lot of indepth interviews of mushers on the last leg of the race.

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner - While they focus more on coverage of the Yukon Quest, the News-Miner is another excellent resource, especially in years when the Iditarod has to take drastic measures and prepare for a restart that far North. They have a dedicated page for Iditarod coverage, but it's a little lighter than the other pages linked here.

Social Media

Iditarod Trail Committee - Their facebook page does have a lot of posts throughout the race, but not up to date action. More along the lines of official updates and posts. There are, however, a lot of fan discussions within the comments. This is their official page for the race, and the organization.

Iditarod EDU - For the Iditarod Educators program, this facebook page keeps teachers up to date on all the happenings with the Teacher on the Trail as well as lesson plan ideas, etc. They give some pretty fun insight into the race as well as just neat activities that don't just have to be used in a classroom. This is another official social media page of Iditarod.

Alaska Mushing News - Run by Helen Hegener a local race nut and historian/author, this facebook group is a great source to run to to find links to all articles relating to any and all mushing topics - which this time of year is basically Iditarod.

Seavey's Ididaride Sled Dog Tours - Yes, this is a musher specific facebook page, however it is run by Danny Seavey and he blogs not just about Mitch's race but about the race in general - mainly about front runners. Still, if you want someone to explain and analyze what you're watching on videos or via GPS, this is a great place for info. Like the rest of us, Danny is a huge fan of this sport and especially the Iditarod.

@ADNIditarod - If you're a fan of twitter, Alaska Daily News has a twitter account dedicated to the following of the race. This will keep you up to date on any big news on the trail as well as links to all of their Iditarod specific articles. Photos and videos show up here often as well.

@IditarodKTVA - As the official news channel, KTVA also follows the race via twitter. Video, photos, and article links.

@DannySeavey - Like the Seavey facebook page, I expect Danny to be able to tweet out a few tidbits every now and then. He's recently started replying to fans. We'll see if it sticks, he can be wordy and twitter really doesn't encourage that. But ask questions, he'll probably answer (just don't always expect promptness, he's got a few businesses to run).

@coldfootfilms - Alex Stein directed a documentary on Iditarod entitled MUSH a few years ago, and is one of the hosts of Dog Works Radio's Iditarod coverage. Stein is an active voice on twitter about mushing and Iditarod.

#MusherTwitter - If you want to see a lot of great mushers and mushing enthusiasts come together and share information, follow the MusherTwitter tag on, well, twitter. Several Iditarod mushers chime in throughout the year giving updates on their team as well as the sport at large. (Stay out of the Iditarod tag, a lot of antis and haters spreading really incorrect info on there. I warned you.)

Sebastian Schnuelle - Another great musher turned blogger in retirement, Schnuelle has been somewhat silent on the race in the last couple of years due to his being a race judge, however he does share photos of his time on the trail on his facebook page.

@ZachHughesAK - Part of the Iditapod team, Zach is very active on twitter and should offer some great info on the race.

@kcgrove - The other part of the Iditapod team. Casey is another fantastic reporter who should offer some humor as well as insight into the race on twitter.

@QuinceMountain - Husband to an Iditarod musher, Q is very active on twitter, he is also a trail correspondent (as of 2019) for the Iditapod.

Jeff Schultz Photography - The official facebook page for the Iditarod's official photographer. His photos are incredible. He is the reason I am a sled dog photographer.

Kale Casey Live - Kale works for a company that sponsors a lot of races and dog team, and live feeds from most races. He typically does a lot of fun interviews in Nome. All feeds are found on his facebook page.

This is just a sampling as it changes all the time who is covering the race, but these are safe bets every year. Shameless plug - you can also follow me on twitter for updates on the race, photos, and I retweet a lot of the links listed in this blog. I'm sure I've missed someone, but my eyes are crossing so I will close for now. Comment below if you think a link should be added.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Iditarod 47 - Top Ten

As the clock winds down ever closer to the start of the 47th Iditarod, thoughts are turning to who will become the next champion. The pool is growing larger for potential champions. Knowing who is going to take the top prize is more difficult every year. In fact, this year's top ten is really a top fifteen since I just can't seem to narrow it down further. So, yeah, I have a few honorable mentions.

Top Ten

Aliy Zirkle - SPKennel's top dawg, Zirkle is the 2000 Yukon Quest Champion who has been so close to the Iditarod Championship she could taste it. Aliy is everyone's favorite. You'd be hard pressed to find anyone - fan or competitor - who could say a bad thing about her. But enough about why we all love Aliy. She is a true dog woman. Her dogs just ran the Quest with her husband Allen Moore and gave it a good go, but tapered off during the final push. Aliy's team struggled last year during the Iditarod when a storm blew in early on in the race and she finished out of the top ten. That being said, I'm not ready to count Aliy out yet, and last year's finish might be the push she needs to come back "with a vengence".

Jeff King - King is a four-time Iditarod champion who is still gunning for another. While his fellow four-timers seem to have conceded that the race has changed since they won their races, Jeff hasn't given up on the illusive number five. King was just hours away from number five in 2014 when a storm blew him off course and he was forced to scratch. Jeff has proven that he is willing to take chances, but not ones that will do wrong by his dogs. He's an old hat at this race, and that experience comes in handy. His dogs come from a long line of champions. Everything is there to come together, the problem is that a lot of other teams have grown up studying "the winningest musher" and now he has more teams threatening to dethrone him. I was *this close* in bumping him down, but you can't count out Mr. The King.

Jessie Holmes - Many counted out the rookie last year, chalking him up as nothing more than a reality TV star, but Holmes came to play. He not only won Rookie of the Year, he broke the top ten. Jessie's got speed on his side, and he has the right kind of ego to get him to the finish in first. He definitely believes in himself and his dogs. But ego is most definitely a two edged sword and it can cloud judgement. Push too soon and the dogs will slow on the coast. They did incredibly well last year, but a storm helped a lot keeping many of the veteran teams at a slower pace. It will be interesting to see what Jessie Holmes and team will be capable of this year.

Joar Leifseth Ulsom - Can Joar repeat? Repeat wins are difficult. Even if every dog is the same, the elements and trail change from hour to hour and there is no guarantee that you will have even close to the race you had last time. Joar quickly climbed the standings in his Iditarod career, now he has to maintain. That's hard to do in any sport, and especially in dog mushing. Joar had the perfect storm blow in to help him advance to the number one spot. I don't expect Nicolas Petit to lose the trail on the Norton Sound again. If Joar wants to become a repeat champion he is going to have to stay within striking distance and have enough gas in the tank to jump out ahead when the time is right.

Matt Hall - It's kind of mind boggling that this will only be Matt's third Iditarod, but the 2017 Yukon Quest Champion has made sure to keep his name in the running for top ten. He nearly missed out on a top ten finish last year, and was on his way to a strong lead in this year's Yukon Quest when he was sidelined (by choice) waiting for a diagnosis of one of his dogs (doggie cancer sucks). Even with having to make up quite a bit of time, Hall managed a very respectable fifth place finish on one of the most difficult Quests in memory. It is completely within reason to see Matt make the top ten, and I wager he could very easily challenge for first.

Mitch Seavey - "Da Man" or "Old Man" Seavey, depending on who you talk to, has found the fountain of youth and has kept many of the young guns at bay in the last 7 years. The Three-Time Iditarod champion has proven time and again that you can teach the... once around the block... guy new tricks. Master strategist, dog man, and just all around expert - you just don't want to count him out. But, like Zirkle, Mitch can sometimes be the "weak link", but more recently he has worked to improve his athletic ability to be able to do more behind the sled than we're used to seeing. I don't expect him to pull out the tricks from Dallas's books and run sprints up mountains with the team, but don't be shocked to see Mitch not only keeping up but surpassing known fast teams. It's all about "building the monster" as they say.

Nic Petit
Nicolas Petit - Someone is starting to gain somewhat of a comical reputation as one who is directionally challenged. Last year Petit was solidly in the lead when he took a wrong turn during the run across the Norton Sound, he lost not only valuable time, but the extra work the dogs ended up dealing with as they backtracked slowed his team. The misstep cost him the win. He's had a few misdirections in several of his mid-distance races this season. Whether it's a loss of focus, or flat out being asleep, or something else - who knows. But it doesn't take much guessing to know that Nicolas is going to run this Iditarod like he has something to prove. Expect Nicolas to get up in front early and fight hard to stay there.

Peter Kaiser - The four-time Kusko 300 champion missed out on a fifth title this season, but not for lack of trying. Kaiser managed a fifth place finish in last year's Iditarod which threw many curveballs at the teams crossing the thousand miles of Alaskan wilderness. One of the strongest Western Alaska teams, Kaiser has steadily climbed the rankings and is poised to do well yet again. It's not a matter of if Kaiser will be an Iditarod champion, it's when. His dogs have it in them, and so does he, but just like all the other champions that have gone before, everything has to go very right for them, and other teams have to have something go wrong. Kaiser has the tools.

Travis Beals - This is another pick that I went back and forth on. When Travis is on, he is very very good, other times he's middle of the pack. Beals had a decent season again this year, and looks to have a solid team. Travis did very well in last year's snowmageddon Iditarod, so one would expect it to go well again this year. He is determined, and it would not be a surprise to see him crack the top ten again.

Wade Marrs - After last year's disappointing race where he scratched on the coast, Marrs is back and should be a contender. The face of Stump Jumpin' Kennel and the former ITC Musher Board Representative, Wade is one of the most exciting "up and coming" (though after this many years, is he really still up and coming?) teams. Marrs trained with some of the best in the sport while in the junior ranks, and he's shown to be a pretty quick study when it comes to racing against some of the best in Iditarod. While using his own methods, Marrs has picked up a few tricks watching how Dallas Seavey races Iditarod, and it's no wonder his schedule seems to match up with those of the Seavey teams. It will be interesting to see how a healthy Wade matches up with the pack this go around.

Dark Horses

I couldn't stop at 10. Honestly there's at least 15 teams that could easily be top ten depending on circumstance. This is a highly competitive field and it's exciting to see. So I have been stressing all week trying to justify my picks, and I can't so I'm adding a few more who could easily make it into the top ten.

Aaron Burmeister - No stranger to Iditarod, Burmeister has knocked on the door to the title for many years now. His short-lived retirement(s) proved that he isn't quite able to give up the dogs or the lifestyle. For some, the race just gets inside them and they have to continue on. Each time Burmeister comes back, he reminds everyone just how good he is. Last year he came 12th, in 2015 he was third. He has a very good chance of breaking into the top ten again. He just has to play his cards right.

Jessie Royer - I really wanted to put her in my top ten, but something tells me this is not her year. Jessie ran the Yukon Quest earlier this month, and she had a rough go of it. Not sure if it was just the extreme negative temperatures (likely) or if this is a team rebuilding year. So I have her as a dark horse this year. I'd love for her to wreck my top ten and make a high placement (or a win), but I'm going to hedge my bets on her.

Matthew Failor - Mattew just beat out Pete Kaiser last month in the Kuskokwim 300, a race Pete pretty much owns. A former handler for four-time Iditarod Champion Martin Buser before striking out on his own with his own team of dogs. It hasn't taken him long to become a true contender. The Kusko is just the first stepping stone on the way to the top. His race this year will be fun to watch as it plays out.

Ramey Smyth - One of the best finishers in the business, you don't want to ever have a Smyth team running up behind you. Ramey has come close to beating out champions in the past, and is always knocking on the door. In so many ways it feels like he should have "Iditarod Champion" next to his name, but he hasn't quite found the magic for it to happen. Still, don't be surprised to see his name creep up the standings, especially once his team hits the coast. Then all bets are off.

Thoughts on who might take the prize this year? Who do you have in your top ten? Comment below!