WILLOW, Alaska (KTUU) - Iditarod XLVI will begin under a cloudless sky on Willow Lake with 67 teams vying for the Joe Redington, Sr. Trophy. Poor snow conditions forced race organizers to relocate the race restart to Fairbanks in 2017 and 2015.
Defending champion Mitch Seavey will battle it out for his fourth Iditarod victory alongside a strong field of contenders. The race will start at 2 p.m. as the mushers head to start line with a maximum of 16 dogs, leaving at two-minute intervals.
The race will see teams leave Willow Lake and head toward the first checkpoint, Yentna Station, along mostly flat trail. From there, the mushers will head to Skwentna along the Yentna river and then to Finger Lake.
The teams will then start climbing the Alaska Range before descending down the feared Dalzell Gorge, a part of the trail race officials say is in great condition for the 2018 race.
The mushers are then taking the Southern Route for the first time since 2013. The dog teams will head south from Ophir, visiting the ghost town of Iditarod before stopping in at Shageluk, Anvik, Grayling and Eagle Island. Race Director Mark Nordman says the Southern Route is a great equalizer as the trail is rarely used outside of Iditarod and is known to be slow going.
Nordman says there are around eight mushers who can win the race.
Some of those top contenders include: Nicolas Petit, who had a perfect lead-up to the race, with four straight mid-distance race victories.
Pete Kaiser, who picked up his fourth straight Kuskokwim 300 victory in Bethel. Joar Ulsom, who finished second in the K300 and has an impressive five top-ten finishes from as many starts.
And Aliy Zirkle, who has three second place finishes and is driving the team that husband Allen Moore just took to victory in the Yukon Quest.