MCGRATH, Alaska (KTUU) - Iditarod mushers are about to make their way from Ophir to Iditarod, on a route that both the mushers and fans haven’t seen in five years. The Southern Route – traditionally run in odd-numbered years – was skipped in 2015 and 2017 due to a lack of snow. The race was run from Fairbanks to Nome those years, instead.
This year, racers and officials say they are excited for the return of this race route. Additionally, it is expected that this route will be run in 2019, in order to make up for the years lost.
“It’s a huge deal to the communities,” said race marshal Mark Nordman. “We haven’t been there since ’13.”
This year, the race will return. Instead of heading north from Ophir, mushers will head south into Iditarod, Shageluk, Anvik, Grayling and Eagle Island, before hooking back up to Kaltag.
“I’m getting daily calls from [the villages],” Nordman said. “The Super Bowl is coming back to their communities.”
Before the race, usual Top 10 finisher Aliy Zirkle said she was looking forward to it.
“It’s going to be more challenging, which personally I prefer,” she said.
Other than a few trappers out of Takotna, not many people use the route besides the Iditarod. It’s not a trail corridor, rather a wilder trail that takes mushers over the Alaska range and headfirst into the wind.
“The Southern Route is not a common route," Zirkle said. "So a lot of times, you have to think about slower speeds and maybe longer runs and longer rests."
What happens in this year’s race is yet to be told, but no doubt there will be fans along the way who are excited to have it back. Furthermore, many of the mushers welcome it as well.
“A thousand miles is a thousand miles, and depending on the weather, you can encounter anything,” Mitch Seavey told Channel 2 earlier this year. “We haven’t been on this route since 2013, which I have to mention – I won that year. So I’m looking forward to the Southern Route.”