Iditarod 2012: Surprising Facts You Need to Know About Premier Dog-Sled Race

Mike ChiariFeatured ColumnistMarch 3, 2012

Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

The 2012 Iditarod is set to start at 2 p.m. ET on Saturday in Anchorage, Alaska and will last at least eight days as the mushers and their dogs make their way to Nome. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the prestigious event, so it's sure to be an exciting race.

Since the race's inception in 1973, it has gained great notoriety as the premier sled-dog race in the United States and the world as a whole. Mushers from all different states and countries make the trip in hopes of one day being considered the best.

Here are some surprising and interesting facts that you need to know about the Iditarod before you start to follow it this year.


The 2012 Race Will Be the Shortest Ever

According to the Iditarod Web site, the 2012 race will be the shortest in the history of the event. With that said, it certainly won't be a walk in the park for the mushers or the dogs as they will have to cover 975 miles across the great state of Alaska. Previous to this year, the race has always lasted for at least 1,000 miles, and the course was often 1,049 miles long.

The significance of the number 1,049 is quite interesting. The 1,000 portion is simply to signify the loftiness of the race, while the 49 number represents Alaska's distinction as the 49th state to enter the union. Due to a change in the starting point and a change in trail conditions, though, it was decided that this year's race would break tradition and go for a "mere" 975 miles.


Rick Swenson is Most-Decorated Musher Ever

There have been a lot of great mushers to win the Iditarod over the years, but none has done it as many times as Rick Swenson. The Minnesota native last accomplished the feat in 1991, but he has won the race five times overall and continues to compete, even at the age of 62.

Swenson has been called "King of the Iditarod" by many and is a true iron man as evidenced by the fact that he is the only person to win the race in three different decades.

Swenson can make even more history if he finds a way to win in 2012. Not only would he extend his wins record to six, but he would also be the first musher to win in four different decades. Although Swenson isn't considered to be as big of a competitor as he has been in the past, he definitely has the experience to be in the running.


The Iditarod Alternates Routes Every Year

One of the most interesting things about the Iditarod is that no race is the same two years in a row. That is because the race alternates routes on a yearly basis as the mushers run the northern trail on even years, and the southern trail on odd years. That would, of course, make 2012 a northern trail year.

There are several reasons for this switching, according to the Iditarod Web site.

Often the Iditarod can be a burden to the small villages that are passed through since there is plenty of commotion that comes with the race. By alternating the trails every year, it ensures that some villages only have to deal with it every other year. Also, it allows the race to pass through the ghost town of Iditarod, which is what the great race is named after.