NOME -

Nome Iditarod race crews waited till midday Monday, then started dumping snow on to Front Street as mushers made the fastest approach to the finish line in the race’s history.

If the race’s history has proven anything, however, circumstances along the trail can be anything but consistent.

Leading musher Jeff King had already finished his mandatory 8-hour layover at White Mountain, as race crews waited till local traffic along the final stretch had dulled to a minimum before filling the street with enough snow for sleds to cross the finish line.

This year’s conditions have changed nearly every aspect of the race this year, its finish line notwithstanding. The mushers are arriving sooner than expected, which might explain the rush to pave the road with snow -- if former six-time Nome mayor Leo Rasmussen hadn’t seen conditions like this in the past. In fact, he’s seen conditions worse, and people forget that. It’s been a long time since 1980, Rasmussen said, and those conditions were only slightly better than those in 1977.

“If those conditions happened today, they would shut the race down,” Rasmussen said. “We’ve had too many good years back to back.”

It boils down to being prepared for whatever Mother Earth has to throw at the race. The musher who is prepared for the unexpected is more than likely to emerge victorious, Rasmussen said. The former mayor recalls four-time Iditarod winner Rick Swenson’s preparedness as possibly the best he’s ever seen.

“You see pictures (of Swenson), he has his big heavy coat on, and maybe it’s flying in the breeze because he has it open because it’s too hot or maybe it’s zipped up, but he never traveled unprepared,” Rasmussen said.

Almost the only thing a musher can predict about the trail’s climate is its unpredictability, and this year there probably isn’t a musher in the race who hasn’t seen it firsthand.

It’s been nearly 30 years since Rasmussen’s seen conditions hold some semblance to the poorest he’s seen in the race’s 42-year existence. Yet with all the improvements in technology and strategy, “you’re hearing all the crying like there’s a bunch of babies out there,” he said.

Rasmussen isn’t demeaning the mushers by any means, but “if you’re not prepared for absolutely the worst that can happen, you can get caught,” he said. “And some of them got caught this year.”

Rasmussen never raced the Iditarod trail, but he became a volunteer for the first race in 1973 and has overseen and timed it ever since. He’ll be out there when the 42nd winner crosses the finish line, too.

Nome native Howard Farley participated in the very first Iditarod race. He came in 20th position and it took him 31 days. He only raced that one time, but for the next 20 years he would contribute to his hometown’s finish line preparation. Like Rasmussen, Farley explained though there have clearly been better years, the lack of snow doesn’t change anything as far as his town’s preparations are concerned.

Regardless of conditions, Farley said preparations are automatic. He hardly worries anymore about it. The Burled Arch is placed on Front Street and months of snow scraped from the streets, stored in caches, is dumped on the final stretch, just in case conditions aren’t as favorable as they could be.

“You don’t know at race time whether there is going to be snow or not,” Farley said. “So the only thing that can guide you is the way the conditions are when the race is scheduled to start.”