ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Nicolas Petit finished the Iditarod roughly 2 hours and 15 minutes behind winner Joar Leifseth Ulsom. That's almost exactly the amount of time Petit lost doing circles with his team on Norton Sound, between Shaktoolik and Koyuk, while trying to find the trail. It was turning point in the race, which Petit argues could have been avoided if an adequate number of trail markers were placed in an area prone to coastal storms and ground blizzards.
"This is how few trail markers there were," said Petit. "I get back on that trail, on one side, I see a trail marker way out there. On the other side, you don't see one. You probably should be able to see a couple trail markers as you're going across a known blowing piece of ice."
Petit told Channel 2's trail crew that the wrong turn happened when he followed a trail lined by Iron Dog trail markers, among other allegations. For the most part, Iditarod and Iron Dog trail makers are identical. In order for mushers to tell the difference, they look for a blue tag attached to the top of the marker.
"In this case, when Nic did get off trail, I know he didn't see an Iditarod marker for a long, long time," said Mark Nordman, Iditarod Race Marshal. "And no blame on Nic whatsoever, but normally, if you don't see that confirmation marker, you'd be turning around."
In the chute on Wednesday, Petit and Leifseth Ulsom were seen talking as Jessie Holmes pulled into Nome. Channel 2 heard Petit discussing the incident, hoping to generate support for the idea of changing the trail marking system, including increasing the number of markers used on the trail.
This year, Nordman says roughly 15,300 trail makers line the trail from Anchorage to Nome, a number which he says often increases annually. To add to the confusion for mushers, Nordman says because of moving sea ice and blowing snow, this was the first year this particular trail was run from Shaktoolik to Koyuk.
"This year with the snow, there have been a lot of changes coming in," said Nordman. "So it was a bit of a strange year, normally there's one trail going from Shaktoolik to Koyuk, but this year, with the ice drifting, there were multiple trails."
Although Nordman says the Iditarod Trail Committee will likely review the incident that potentially cost Petit his first Iditarod title, he said he doesn't see any changes to the trail marking system happening.