The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race covers a frozen 975-mile course across a desolate Alaskan expanse, where mushing competitors face each other, yes, but also brutal and unpredictable conditions capable of shredding the spirits of dog and human alike.
In its 50th year, the 2022 race follows the northern route from Anchorage to Nome, including 23 checkpoints along the way. Though some lore traces the origins of the Iditarod to the famous sled-dog diphtheria serum run from Nenana to Nome that saved a remote village in 1925, the pioneers of the race envisioned it as a way to honor and preserve mushing tradition, as well as the Iditarod Trail, which had been used as a mail route and conduit for transportation during the gold rush. Saving sled-dog culture would also revive interest in the Alaskan husky, which had been steadily replaced as the primary means of winter navigation by the 1960s invention of the snowmachine. With today’s Iditarod teams averaging 16 dogs, and upwards of 70-plus human competitors, more than 1,000 dogs now race each year, making the endeavor a—dare we say—howling success.
On iditarod.com, you can find maps of the course, entry requirements, historical archives, official rules, and statistics on individual mushers dating back to 1973. For instance, while the first race took winner Dick Wilmarth 20 days to complete, Dallas Seavey covered a slightly shorter (COVID-19-altered) course in 2021 in the brisk blink of seven days. That’s a week of eyelash icicles versus a near month facing frostbite.
While most mushers will modestly tell you that the real athletes are their dogs, below and one the next several pages we look toward the race’s future and highlight the last five humans to shepherd their canine crew across the finish line in first place in Nome. All are scheduled to compete in this year’s race.
The Next 50 Years
While it’s critical to honor the traditions and mushing culture that led to the 50th anniversary of the Iditarod competition, CEO Rob Urbach wants the world to know that the Iditarod is more than just a race.
First and foremost, it’s about the dogs. And over the next 50 years, Urbach is determined to use the Iditarod to improve human beings’ relationships with their furry, canine companions—golden doodles to couch-potato lap dogs one and all.
“We’re driving forward on several initiatives to future-proof the race. We’ve faced challenges about relevance and animal welfare, while arguably, we as an institution know more about dogs than any other company on the planet,” Urbach said. “If I had to come back in another life, I’d come back as a sled dog. I’d have the best veterinary care, be better taken care of than I am now, and get to hang out with my friends under the northern lights.”
As for relevance, Urbach believes that the message of the Iditarod is more timely than ever. “Here we are in a world dominated by small screens. The Iditarod presents an antidote to that. It connects people to nature and grit,” he said. He admits, however, that digital content provides a conduit to get that message across, and the Iditarod has sweeping plans in that regard.
“We’re extending beyond the global livestream during the race to provide ongoing broader content to the 70 million households who are dog owners,” Urbach said. “We’ve gamified and digitized the trail map, and we’re changing our insider network to be the DOGZ channel—a video on demand subscription accessed through iditarod.com. Our goal is to help people who love dogs understand them and take better care of them.”
Stay tuned to iditarod.com for more announcements as the company expands its coverage beyond the annual race to inform and entertain dog lovers from all walks of life.
2017: 8d 3h 40m 13s
The surname Seavey is all but synonymous with the Iditarod, with a reign of champions some might call dynasty worthy at this point. Patriarch Dan Seavey raced the inaugural Iditarod in 1973, finishing third, and competed four more times in his career up until 2012. Mitch followed in his footsteps, sometimes quite literally, when the two competed against each other in the same years.
Mitch ran 10 Iditarod races before becoming a champion, winning on his 11th try in 2004. That dogged determination resulted in 18 top-10 finishes and three championships, earning around $880,000 over the course of his career. While that might seem like a lot of prize money, the race remains a labor of love. The care of pups, along with entry fees, gear, and months of training, divided up by 40 years of competition, would equal around $22,000 annual pay. Hard to keep a kennel of dogs in booties and kibble for that amount. On his last win in 2017, Mitch set two records: the first for being the oldest Iditarod champion at 56 years old, and the second for setting a speed record. All four of his boys mush competitively. And, with the youngest being 21, the legacy is certain to continue for years to come. Learn more about Mitch.