Dog Breeds Info
Information on Dog Breeds from A to Z

Home Dog Breeds Articles About Us Awards Contact Privacy Policy Terms of Use

The History of the Iditarod



iditarod raceMost of the time when you think of dogs in competition, you immediately go to show dogs. That is, unless you live in Alaska where dogsled racing is still the most celebrated sport. As we’re coming up to the end of March, we’ve just finished the biggest sledding competition in the world: The Iditarod. A race consisting of over 1000 miles, the Iditarod has quite the story behind hit. For those curious, here’s the legacy of the most popular dogsled race of all time.

Few people in the lower 48 states seem to know much about the Iditarod beyond the casual “Yes I’ve heard about that, it involves sledding, right?” The furthest back it can trace its official history is to the 1908 All-Alaska Sweepstakes which consisted of a 408 mile trek between Nome and Candle, then back again. Pretty much every race in Alaska involves the Iditarod Trail in some way or another, but it’s the 1925 Great Race of Mercy that people recall most usually, thanks entirely to Balto.

A short primer to explain the serum run to Nome (the Great Race of Mercy) is that diphtheria hit an epidemic level, especially for native Alaskan children, but the nearest medicine was in Anchorage, nearly 1000 miles away. No planes could fly out to pick up the desperately needed medication, so a train carried it 298 miles to Nenana, then passed it off to a series of dogsled relays for the next 674 miles. Most people remember Balto, the lead dog from the final relay team, though while Balto has a statue in Central Park and he and his master, Gunnar Kaasen, became celebrities of their time, a lot of people consider the real heroes to be Leonhard Seppala and his lead dog Togo since they ran 91 miles (the longest of any in the relay) and dealt with the most hazardous stretch.

From there, an annual race was started in 1967 called the Iditarod Trail Seppala Memorial Race which happened to be only 25 miles, and while the first year things went pretty well, the very next year it was cancelled due to a lack of snow and then had dwindling interest in the 1969 year. Things seemed pretty much done for dogsled racing until 1973 when the first official Iditarod race was held, founded by Joe Redington Sr., Gleo Huyck, and Tom Johnson.

The race itself is actually rather confusing upon first hearing it as the route changes yearly so as to find paths that allow for the best sledding, and also to alleviate the stress on smaller towns that act as checkpoints along the way. The hard thing to understand is that while the race has a ceremonial start in Anchorage, it actually starts in Fairbanks, though before 2003 it was in Willow Lake. This fake start is more for show than anything else and a lot of mushers dislike it since the crowd can spook their dogs pretty good, but overall it’s just a short warm-up session more than anything where no one needs to take it too seriously and can just relax.

The 100 miles after the restart however are less relaxing as the stretch is known as Moose Alley for obvious reasons. In fact, various mushers have encountered moose in prior races, with one notable example being Susan Butcher in 1985 when two of her dogs were killed by a pregnant moose, thus resulting in her losing her chance to place (she did go on to win four times since and has a state holiday, the first Saturday of March, named after her).

Throughout the race, mushers are required to move through specific checkpoints, including three mandatory rest periods with one of those being 24-hours. There are overall 26 checkpoints on the northern route and 27 on the southern route (they switch between the two every year).

Typically, the winner of the race receives a large purse upwards of $50,000, but the real reward is the number of sponsorships, speaking engagements, and book deals that typically accompany said victory. But before you consider running out and starting the race, know that the cost of the race for dogs and sleds and supplies ranges between $10,000 to $40,000, and that’s if you know what you’re doing! Currently the fastest race time is 8 days, 19 hours, and 46 minutes, so just consider the cost of both money and time before going forth with your new sledding dream. Plus, you have to be an experienced musher before being considered and qualify in three separate races beforehand. Perhaps it’s best to just watch from afar.

The Iditarod is one of those sporting events that seems so foreign when you’re separated from it, but in Alaska it’s the king of sports. It shows determination and skill, and clearly isn’t for the faint of heart. But man, can you imagine what some of those nights must be like?

Related Articles


5 Tips on Training Your Dog

Reasons to Choose Organic Dog Food

Popular Dog Breeds for Pets

5 Tips for Naming Your Dog

The Best Dogs for Senior Citizens

Housebreaking Your Dog

How to Travel With Your Dog

Basic Principals for Better Health and Safety of Dogs

Advice For Feeding Dogs

5 Ways To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Safe

Dog Accessories

Dog Breeding

Information On Dog Parks

Dog Shows

Dog Toys

Dog Training Tips

Doggy Daycare

Dog Owner Edicit

Health Insurance For Your Dog

How to Avoid Dehydration for Dogs

How to Avoid Bloat Condition

How to Choose A Dog That's Right For You

How to Get Your Dog to Stop Barking

How To Avoid Worms In Your Dog

Dogs and Seperation Anxiety

Better Training for Your Dog

Places To Buy A Dog

Poisons To Keep Away From Your Dog

Safety Dogs for Autistic Children

5 Tips to Find Your Lost Dog

Buying a Dog From a Rescue: What To Look Out For

How to Crate Train Your Dog

How to Puppy Proof Your Home

5 Common Household Toxins and Your Dog

5 Tips For Dog Show Preparation

Clipping Dog Nails: A How To Guide

Children and Dogs: Is your Child Ready For a Dog?

Dogs and Fleas: How to Treat Your Dog's Fleas

5 Ways To Exercise With Your Dog

Brushing Dog Teeth: A How To Guide

No-Kill Shalters: Quick Facts

Overweight Dog? The Doggy Diet

Dealing With Dog Nipping

5 Useful Tips For Dog Paw Care

When To Euthanize Your Dog: Making The Decision

Dog Tears: Preventing Stains

How to Stop Your Dog From Jumping

5 Tips To Managing Shedding Dogs

Top 5 Healthiest Dog Foods

How To Potty Train Your Dog

What are Lap Dogs?

Where You Should Look to Find Your Puppy

Winning the War on Fleas

What Not to Feed Your Dog

Three Main Keys to Owning a Healthy and Happy Dog

Dog First Aid: How To Treat Wounds and the Supplies You Need

The Options for Paying Those Costly Vet Bills

Tips to Maintain a Healthy Dog or Puppy for Life

To Hire a Dog Sitter or Not

Things to Consider Before Buying a Puppy

Useful Information for Dog Breeding

Training Your Dog to Walk with a Leash

Top 9 Canine Breeds to Adopt

Most Popular Dog and Puppy Names of 2011

Dealing with your Dog's Sleeping Habits

Why Dogs Become Aggressive

Dealing With an Itchy Dog

What Makes a Good Guard Dog?

Why You Really Shouldn't Feed Your Dog Scraps

Why Don't Some Dogs Like Strangers?

Why Dogs Make Poor Gifts

Puppy Love

To Breed for the AKC Standards or Not

Why You Should Check for Corn in Your Dog Food

Dealing With Your Dog's Ear Infection

Shock Collars and Electric Dog Fences

The History of the Iditarod

Foods to Keep Away From Your Dog

Should You Feed Your Dog a Raw Food Diet?

Calming Your Dog Around Thunder

Things to Consider When Moving While Owning a Dog

Why You Should Get Your Dog Fixed

Dog Houses and Kennels

Let's Get Moving!

Supplies for Dogs

You Dog, Your Debt, and You

A Vulnerable Dog Skin

Learning to Live With a Dog When You Don't Want To

Dogs and Bones

How to Clicker Train Your Dog

What to Do if You Are Attacked By a Dog

Telling the Difference Between Playfulness and Aggression

Car Safety for Your Dog

Helping Your Dog Handle Fear

Being Able to Sense When Your Dog is Sick