ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Iditarod mushers this year can expect a reduced amount of prize money when they arrive in Nome, compared to those who finished in 2017. Chas St. George, the chief operations officer for the Iditarod Trail Committee, confirmed that the total purse for this year’s race will be $500,000, a drop of $248,116 from 2017 and $430,733 from the 2008 figure.
The impact of that reduced purse is that most of the prize money will be given to the mushers who finish in the top 20. Teams that finish from 21st place through last place will receive $1,049, the same figure as the length of the historic Iditarod trail.
St. George explained that the exact amount paid to each musher will be determined before the musher’s banquet on March 18 and will depend on exactly how many teams have finished.
“I think the first place award would be somewhere around $50,000,” said St. George, a drop of $21,250 from the 2017 figure. Looking at data from race officials, the amount paid to Iditarod winners has risen and fallen dramatically: Dick Wilmarth received $12,000 for winning the first Iditarod in 1973 and Dallas Seavey won $75,000 in 2016.
The biggest change though is for mushers finishing between 21st and 30th place. Since the year 2000, those mushers have received more of a share of the total prize money than those who will finish in the same places this year.
Vern Halter finishing in 21st place in 2000 received $8,000, Aliy Zirkle finishing in 21st place in the year 2008 received $15,000, and Jason Mackey received $11,614 in 2017. Under the 2018 calculation, all those mushers would have received $1,049.
The Iditarod board decided to reduce the 2018 purse to preserve finances into the future; a decision that has been taken in the past and one that animals rights group PETA claims was due to their campaigning in 2017.
St. George says some mushers did voice concern before Iditarod started about the changing way prize money is being paid, but most understood a reduced purse reflected that the race was experiencing tough economic times. “Were hoping through this conservative approach of balancing the budget that it won’t happen in the future.”
When asked whether a greater share of prize money for top 20 finishers would encourage mushers to race faster, St. George said the highly-competitive mushers understand and value that their dogs need to get there safely. “That’s probably the most important factor.”