Iditarod 2013: Biggest Challenges Mushers Will Face in This Year's Race

Mike Moraitis@@michaelmoraitisAnalyst IMarch 1, 2013

16Mar 1999: Paul Gebhardt mushes his dogs through the snow during the Iditarod Trail Race in Alaska. Mandatory Credit: Ezra O. Shaw  /Allsport
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The 2013 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race will begin on Saturday, Mar. 2, and there will be several challenges mushers will have to overcome in this year's event.

This exciting race will start in Anchorage and finish in Nome, Alaska. Six former champion mushers will be in the field.

But past success guarantees nothing in the Iditarod because of all the difficult things competitors will have to go through. As a result, it's anyone's race, as is the case each and every year.

Let's take a look at some of the challenges mushers will face in this year's version.


Everything you need to know about this race can be found on


Warm Weather

The Iditarod is usually known for its incredibly cold conditions marked by blizzards that can lead to whiteout conditions. However, this year's race could see quite different conditions than the norm.

According to Mary Pilon of The New York Times, warm weather leading up to the race has presented mushers with a tough time in preparing for the event.

But as Marques rode this winter, he and his huskies trudged over dirt patches and bramble, surrounded by tree branches that once held fluffy snow. Instead of subzero conditions, which are ideal for the sport, temperatures have been in the 30s and 40s.

“It’s raining and not snowing,” Marques said during a recent training ride, maneuvering the dogs to avoid puddles on the trail. “That’s not good.”

The reason this climate isn't good is because it has made training much more difficult. Instead of traveling over soft snow on practice paths, mushers—especially inexperienced ones—have had to deal with dirt patches and tree branches that make simulating the Iditarod's course impossible and dangerous.

Not to mention those kinds of ground conditions can be punishing to the paws of the sled dogs and increase the chance of injury.

Leading up to the race, many qualifying events had to be postponed and/or cancelled thanks to these abnormal weather conditions. That will no doubt lead to a field of less prepared participants for the 2013 Iditarod.

If these conditions persist in the race itself, it will make an already grueling course that much more difficult to finish for the mushers and their dogs. At this point, competitors might prefer the normally blistering conditions this race presents on a yearly basis.


Trail Issues

There are several different factors that can make trail conditions unbearable, one of which was already mentioned above.

Another problem mushers face is the threat of wild animals, namely moose. Not only can this animal endanger the welfare of the musher themselves, but a run-in with the sled dogs could lead to injury or worse (per the Alaska Dispatch).

Snowmobiles are another issue on the trails. This form of transportation might make it easier on most humans, but for the participants in this race, that doesn't hold true. Snowmobiles can often damage trails and even lead to accidents with the sleds themselves as riders are just passing by (per Associated Press, via

If the weather does return to true form, trail conditions can turn into a nightmare, as visibility will be poor if a blizzard kicks in and that can lead to teams getting lost while making their way through the course.


Sled Dog Concerns

The most important part of the Iditarod is the welfare of the dogs, who can fall victim to several different problems along the way.

If the weather is warm, dogs can overheat and become injured thanks to uncovered paths of dirt patches and branches as explained above. Also, pushing dogs too hard can lead exhaustion, and that no doubt affects the dog's overall production or worse, leads to more serious problems.

Even the dogs themselves are a danger to each other, as not every canine gets along during this race. Oftentimes, dogs can get into fights with each other, and that is never a good thing for either combatant.

Dogs also tend to wander off if they break free from their harness.

It's bad enough that the mushers themselves have to deal with physical issues (per Doug O'Harra of the Anchorage Daily News), but when the dogs themselves begin to break down and have problems, that can lead to a nightmare result.