Sun, Feb 26, 2006 - Page 24 News List

Iditarod to start in Willow once again

AP , ANCHORAGE, ALASKA

Willow will host the official start of next week's Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race after another meager snow season in the traditional start town of Wasilla, race officials said on Friday.

"If there's anything on the ground in the area of the start, it's ice," race director Stan Hooley said.

The largely bare ground in spring-like Wasilla would have increased the chances of major injuries to canines and humans alike, race officials said. Mushers need snow to brake and help fired-up dog teams settle to endurance-race pace during the first 80km to 160km of the race.

"We need to make decisions that get the biggest, strongest, healthiest dog teams to Nome," Hooley said.

Scarce snow has deprived Wasilla, about 64km north of Anchorage, of the start for the past three years. Willow, 40km up the trail from Wasilla, has staged the start for the past two years. The race opened in Fairbanks in 2003.

Iditarod headquarters is in Wasilla, which considers itself home to the world's longest sled-dog race. A race start in Wasilla routes dog teams past historic Knik, home of the late Iditarod founder Joe Redington.

More than 80 dog teams will begin the more than 1,850km journey to Nome on March 5 in Willow.

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