Iditarod trailbreakers begin making permanent trail improvements

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BIG LAKE, Alaska (KTUU) - With chainsaws, fuel and sleds packed full of supplies, the Iditarod Trailbreakers are taking their first on-the-ground look at the trail. The six members of the crew set out from Big Lake Thursday morning to ride toward Rainy Pass.

Zack Steer, the logistics coordinator for Iditarod, said the focus of the week-long trip is on making permanent repairs to the section of the Iditarod trail that lies in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

"We have two areas of concern: one is around an area known as Round Mountain, an area that traditionally has a lot of side hill glaciation and is very rough and dangerous for the dogs and the mushers," said Steer.

One of the goals of the project will be to set a new route that is a little less technically challenging for Iditarod teams. In addition to re-routing, Steer says the second goal of the project will be more routine maintenance: brushing, replacing reflectors and doing anything to ensure less trail work is needed in the future.

“These efforts will hopefully ensure if we have a low snow year like we had in the past, we won’t have to go to Fairbanks for a restart,” said Steer.

This re-route is expected to cost around $20,000 with a lot of that money coming from the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and lodges along the trail.
In late January, trailbreakers will make their way north to McGrath to begin work on the Southern Route; a part of the trail that hasn't been run in five years.

State of the Race

Leading up to the 2018 race, the Iditarod has faced criticism from activist groups like People for The Ethical Treatment of Animals after sled dog deaths and the race's latest doping scandal.

Chas St. George, a public affairs spokesperson for the race, says the Iditarod will not take this criticism lying down and plans to address these issues before the 2018 race, even discussing cameras along the trail for added security.