Iditarod dogsled race preparations hampered by lack of snow

As mushers prepare for the Iditarod, Alaska’s world-famous,1,000-plus-mile dogsled race, they are finding that one key ingredient is missing: snow.

In Fairbanks, Alaska, where many mushers train, the snowpack is 21 percent of average, and a number of Iditarod qualifying races have been postponed, rerouted, or canceled due to a lack of snow, according to The New York Times.

“It’s raining and not snowing,” musher Luan Marques told the Times during a training run that involved avoiding puddles on the trail. “That’s not good.”

The Don Bowers Memorial 200/300, the Sheep Mountain Lodge 150, and the Knik 200 were canceled. Twenty-five miles of trail were cut off the Copper Basin 300 in Glennallen, Alaska, because of no snow at the finish line.

“That was crazy with the warm weather,” race organizer Zach Steer told the Times. “It was such a drastic change from last year, but the trail at the end was dirt. It wasn’t safe.”

Anchorage received 134.5 inches of snow last season, measured from July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012. The current season has generated only 39.2 inches, and temperatures have been in the 30s and 40s for some of Marques’ training runs, resulting in his huskies having to dangerously trudge over dirt patches and brambles.

Not surprisingly, talk of global warming is quite serious in Alaska, particularly with officials from the Iditarod.

“It definitely has us concerned,” spokeswoman Erin McLarnon told the Times.

Musher Scott Janssen added, “All the talk about global warming does worry us. We joke, but there’s a big concern about these river crossings.”

Lack of snow prevents rookies from being able to qualify, puts a major crimp in training, and increases the chances for dogs to become injured.

Running on ground that is hard or bumpy “can be like running on a cheese grater,” said musher Monica Zappa, whose first Iditarod is now delayed because of canceled qualifying events.

The good news is, there is still time to add to the snowpack. The Iditarod’s March 2 start is still a few weeks away. By then, hopefully, the trail will offer a sufficient amount of snow.

Above photo is from the 2010 ceremonial start to the Iditarod; bottom photo shows 2012 Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey during ceremonial start. Both images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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