Saturday, June 6, 2020

Iditarod 2021 Sign Ups are open

As we watched the world rapidly shut down in March, the 48th running of the Iditarod plugged along through the wilds of Alaska. Somewhat fittingly, the Iditarod became the literal LAST Great Race On Earth. As professional sports are mostly on hold, with many trying to save their seasons with drastic plans of empty stadiums and other social distancing means, the Iditarod is also facing a different world as they gear up for Iditarod 49.

Most Iditarod fans know June signals the start of the new mushing season. The last Saturday in June is typically held for the Iditarod Volunteer Appreciation Picnic and Musher Sign Ups (as well as ITC Elections and Annual Meetings). However, due to the current Covid-19 Pandemic, the Iditarod made an announcement last week that they made the difficult decision to not hold the summer festivities.  Fans and mushers lamented, but ultimately were understanding (to be fair I think most mushers were grateful - being a mostly busy introverted bunch).

With the decision to cancel the Picnic, the Iditarod felt there was no reason to wait until the end of June to start the process of sign ups. They announced late in the week that teams could begin signing up. Along with the changes for June, they also announced a change in the break down of fees and due dates. Because of the lack of revenue most kennels are seeing due to the Covid-19 shelter-in-place mandates (lack of travel means lack of tourists taking rides and touring kennels), the Iditarod has come up with ways to help lessen the financial strain signing up for the thousand mile race puts on kennels.

For teams signing up now through June 27 (what would have been the opening day of sign ups were it not for Covid-19) teams signing up will only pay a $2000 entry fee (a 50% decrease from last year's fee). June 28 - August 31 the entry fee goes up to $3000, and September 1 - November 30 the fee is the standard $4000. Late entries (December - February 12, 2021, discretion by the Iditarod Qualifying Review Board) must pay a $4000 late fee on top of the $4000 entry fee. All applications will be reviewed by the Qualifying Review Board before final approval.

While we're in a wait and see period - as are most mushers, I assume - as to who will sign up, we do know a little information on what the roster should look like in March. Reigning Iditarod Champion Thomas Waerner, who only arrived back in Norway this week after being stuck in Alaska post race due to the Covid-19 shut downs, has already stated to the media he hopes that he and his team will be back in 2021 - depending on travel restrictions. Three-time champ Mitch Seavey announced at the end of the 2020 race that he planned to sit on the sidelines for 2021 (it's not retirement!) and is combining his A-team with son Dallas' A-team to create a SuperTeam "to see what they can do." Dallas, of course, is a four-time Iditarod champion - among other records. Four-time champ Jeff King had to sit out this year's race due to a medical emergency just days before the start, and it's unclear if The King will head down the trail in 2021, but it would be shocking to not see him try to make the start line. It's everyone's guess that we haven't seen the last of four-time Champion Martin Buser either, but it's not for sure until his name is on that list.

Another up in the air former four-time (consecutive!) champion is Lance Mackey. Mackey finished 21st in this year's race, but was DQed in May after drug test results showed he had Methamphetamine in his system. Mackey's family says he is taking the time to focus on his health, and the entire mushing fandom is behind him. One can only hope Mackey can overcome this latest hurdle, but it remains unseen (and possibly unlikely) if he will make the starting line in 2021.

It is unknown when we will start seeing the roster for 2021 live on the Iditarod Website. As of June 6 the musher profiles still list the 2020 teams. However, some teams have taken to social media to let their fans know they've signed up. As of June 6 the known teams are:

Dan Kaduce of Dew Claw Kennel
Ryne Olson of Ryno Sled Dog Kennel
Riley Diche of Dark Horse Racing Kennel
Paige Drobny of Squid Acres Kennel

Hopefully we'll see more names added to the list soon.