The Iditarod is an event like no other. This sled race traverses 1,150 miles of Alaska terrain—across mountains, over the frozen tundra, and other intimidating landscapes The vast majority of people who experience the race are not mushers of sled dogs. They're volunteers helping out or spectators coming to experience one of the greatest events the True North State hosts.
Iditarod History and Facts
The Iditarod Race Alaska begins in Anchorage and winds it way to the Bering Sea and the city Nome, more than a thousand miles away. The various teams, with a musher and 12 to 16 sled dogs, spend a lot of time preparing for the Last Great Race on Earth that begins in March. Many people coming to find animals in Alaska really enjoy seeing the well-trained and well-treated sled dogs.
The Iditarod 2011 continues a long tradition in a nod to Alaska's singular history. In the days before multi-lane highways and commercial airliners, getting much-needed supplies from Anchorage to smaller communities was a much bigger challenge. Mail, gold, medicine, and many other materials made their way by sled dog.
The most dramatic chapter in Iditarod history came in 1925 when brave men and sled dogs braved the elements to save Nome from a diphtheria threat. The official race started in the 1970s, quickly becoming an Alaska tradition.
These days, more than 250,000 people gather in Anchorage to watch the start of the race and honor the Iditarod history. The big day usually begins the first week in March. The route varies depending on the year, but it always involves Anchorage and Nome, even a route through the gold-rush towns of the Yukon, Canada.
Every stop along the way is a cause for celebration. For the teams, it's a chance to rest up and fuel up. Volunteer positions are readily available at many of the stop-overs, so you can do more than just watch the race.
Tickets to the Iditarod Race Alaska
You won't need to purchase tickets if you're planning to see the race starts in Anchorage or Wasilla. Other stops along the route do not require entry fees, you just have to be there at the right time. The awards banquet in Nome, held after the race is complete, does require tickets.
Directions to the Iditarod
The ceremonial start to the big race starts at Fourth Avenue in the heart of Anchorage. Nearly two weeks and 1,150 miles later, the race ends under the arch in Nome, a tiny town along the Bering Sea.
If making the trek seems too arduous, don't worry. Plenty of tour companies offer vacation packages that combine time watching the Iditarod with a full-fledged adventure vacation. The professional guides know the Iditarod history well—and some even let you meet the sled dogs up close or go for a dog-sled ride.
Lodging near the Iditarod
Many vacation packages include lodging and meals, in addition to activities and race viewing. If you're planning to put together vacation plans on your own, there will be plenty of Alaska hotels that can provide places to stay, especially in Anchorage.
Nome's hotels and bed and breakfast inns often fill up quickly in the middle of March. Some of the locals open up their homes during the high season. In between Anchorage and Nome, you'll find every kind of lodging providers, everything from grand resorts and Alaska hotels to off-the-beaten path wilderness lodges.
Not far from the race start, the Crowne Plaza Hotel Anchorage provides a warm and comfortable place to spend the night. Close to the airport, the hotel offers a free shuttle and Wi-Fi access. Its 170 guestrooms and suites are spread over six floors. The rooms are elegantly appointed and feature flat-screen TVs and kitchenettes.
At the other end of the route, the Nome Nugget Inn overlooks the Bering Sea. Its lobby is packed with race memorabilia and items from the Gold Rush. The 47 comfortable guestrooms have private bathrooms and cable TV, along with a microwave and refrigerator. The onsite lounge is one of the best places to enjoy the views and talk about the race.
Image: dweekly (flickr)