Iditarod preparations in full swing as Race Director discusses recent controversies

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - The start of Iditarod is just over three weeks away and the preparations to make the race a reality are in full swing.

Volunteers from the Alaska Military Youth Academy and members of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints in the Lower 48 worked together in a South Anchorage warehouse Thursday afternoon to prepare vital supplies to be flown out.

Zach Steer, Iditarod logistics coordinator, spoke about the sheer quantity of material needed by the dog teams: 1,500 bales of straw and hay, 12,000 bottles of Heet and 15,000 trail markers.

“Some people might look at this as a logistics nightmare but it’s just one of the things that Iditarod has refined over the years,” said Steer. The straw and hay is used by mushers for bedding for their dogs, the Heet, a type of methyl alcohol typically used as antifreeze, repurposed by mushers to warm up water to cook their food and food for their dogs.

Steer explains the trail markers serve a vital function for the mushers: “Siri doesn’t work so good on the trail, so if we don’t put out the trail markers they’ll be like, Siri, how do I get to Nome?!”

Mark Nordman, the Iditarod Race Director, says there is some “cause for concern” about the announcement from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) that they are planning to protest the ceremonial start, the restart in Willow and the race finish in Nome. However, Nordman says he is focusing on the dogs and that the board is “very comfortable in our race” as it “continues to make improvements.”

On the question of Dallas Seavey and the investigation into the alleged drugging of his dogs, Nordman said it is “an ongoing thing.” As a success, he pointed to Rule 39 recently revised by the Iditarod Trail Committee that holds mushers “strictly liable for all positive tests for prohibited drugs” instead of requiring them to prove intent.

“Dallas was never personally accused for me or anyone else of drugging his dogs. We don’t know how it happened,” said Nordman. In response to the doping allegations, Seavey pulled out of Iditarod and is now slated to participate in the Finnmarksløpet, a 1,100 km sled dog race based out of Norway. Nordman says it is a “very well run race” and that Seavey will have his work cut out for him.

The Iditarod for 2018 is scheduled to run its Southern Route, a section of the trail that hasn’t seen Iditarod mushers since 2013. “It’s a huge thing for them,” Nordman said. “There’s kids out there who don’t know Iditarod.”

Nordman says there are plans to run the Southern Route for the next three years.

As for predictions for a winner, Nordman says there are eight or nine mushers who could win this year's race. When pushed on who he thinks will win, he smiled wryly: “I know who’s going to win this race, but of course I’m not going to say.”

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