The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is counting down closer and closer. The ceremonial start in downtown Anchorage was today, and by all accounts it went off without a hitch, entertaining the crowds in Alaska’s largest city. The real race starts at Willow Lake tomorrow afternoon, at 2:00 p.m.
One of the more important factors that can impact any given musher’s race is weather conditions. Most followers will remember that the warm weather was largely responsible for Lance Mackey having to scratch this year’s Yukon Quest at the half-way point. His dogs were hot, uncomfortable, unhappy and not eating enough to sustain the energy required to run 1,000 miles.
South of the Alaska Range, there is about a 20% chance of some light new snow, but temperatures are forecast to be around 32 degrees at the start of the race, dropping to around 14 degrees tomorrow night, and much the same on Monday. As the racers head into the interior, the forecast for the region around McGrath is pretty similar, with lows around 10 degrees above zero, and highs into the thirties. It looks the coastal region will be a little cooler, but nonetheless pretty reasonable with temperatures ranging between 14 and 15 degrees next weekend. There may be some new snow falling here and there, but I don’t see anything in the forecast that looks like any sort of raging blizzard.
The best dog mushing conditions in Alaska are when temperatures range between about -15 degrees (F) below zero to about +10 degrees above (-20 to -12 C). In that range, the dogs are able to regulate their body heat efficiently and the sled runners create very little drag in the snow. It’s harder for dogs, especially heavily coated traditional dogs preferred by many Iditarod mushers, to keep themselves from overheating. Some very successful long distance racers run dogs with less coat, and though they require more care during a cold year, it looks like one of those years that favor dogs similar to those of Martin Buser and Aliy Zirkle.
I suspect nearly all of the contenders will trying to schedule their runs in a way that allows them to travel primarily at night, and rest their dogs during the warmest part of the day. While most of the field is likely to spend most of Monday afternoon at Finger Lake, many of the frontrunners will probably quick-stop through the Skwentna checkpoint, camp for a few hours on the trail, then blow through Finger Lake and be well on their way to the Happy River Steps and Rainy Pass by Monday dawn.
On the I’rod website, a blog article by Joe Runyon compares his favorites for a top-10 finish to those of 1984 champion Dean Osmar. They are surprisingly similar in that 9 names show up on both lists, including Dallas Seavey, Aaron Burmeister, Pete Kaiser, Aliy Zirkle, Jeff King, Mitch Seavey, Rayme Smyth, John Baker and Ray Redington. For the 10th name, Osmar preferred Jake Berkowitz, while Runyon listed Martin Buser. Personally, I believe that Brent Sass’ team will outperform that of Jake Berkowitz in this race. I s’pose time will tell who is right, and who needs to invest in a new crystal ball. I am pretty confident that someone on those lists will be the 2013 champion, but only time will tell us for sure who.