The Iditarod, Alaska’s iconic, 1,000-mile (1,600 kilometre) sled-dog race set to begin March 5, faces an unprecedented challenge this year. For the first time in the race’s 43-year history, snow will be shipped in for the competition’s opening ceremony.
To make sure the dozens of sledding teams are greeted with snow, organizers decided to ask the Alaska Railroad to trundle in about 350 cubic yards of it from snowier locales. It is the first time the railroad has had to ship snow from Fairbanks to Anchorage. The shipping service was donated, according to a railroad official.
“Moving snow out of the way, we don’t usually bring it to somewhere else,” Tim Sullivan, a spokesman for the railroad, told The Associated Press. According to the National Weather Service, 27 inches of snow has fallen in the Anchorage area since July. The area normally sees about 61 inches in that time.
The backup snow arrived on Thursday, the boulder-shaped material filling up several train cars that are designed to flip open and dump out their contents. It is enough snow to blanket a football field up to three inches, but it is apparently not enough to cover the 11-mile track in Anchorage, which will be used for the ceremonial start of the race on Saturday. So the ceremonial course will be eight miles shorter this year, officials said.
“The warm weather’s going to be quite something,” one musher, Luc Tweddell, told Canada’s CBC News. “It’s hard on the dogs. On the musher, it’s fine, but on the dogs, it’s harder to get food into them and stuff like that.”
Alaska’s tourism industry relies on the ability of people to attend a race like the Iditarod — and some mushers rely on the tens of thousands of dollars in prize money — but the consequences of warmer winters go well beyond affecting the viability of a sledding race.
According to a report by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, temperatures are rising in Alaska at a rate twice as fast as the rest of the United States. In the past 60 years, average temperatures have risen by three degrees across the state, and warming in the winter has increased by six degrees. The change has threatened the breeding and feeding habitats for birds and caribou, and has affected water and food sources for Alaska Natives.