Formidable Field Preps for 2016 Iditarod

The 2016 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is five months away, but 71 mushers had registered as of November 3 for the 1,000-mile race from Anchorage to Nome, which begins March 5.The field so far includes five Alaska Native mushers, one musher with Alaska Native family ties, and at least one Sami musher from Norway.The Iditarod is considered the world’s premier sled dog race. It incorporates part of a historic trail, courses through terrain both breathtaking and harsh, and has the largest purse in sled dog racing: the 2015 winner went home with $70,000 and a 2015 Ram 1500 4×4 pickup valued at $40,000.Poor training conditions because of low snowfall forced some rural Alaska Native competitors – for whom mushing has been part of their culture for several thousand years – to forego the last race; only four Alaska Native mushers competed in the 2015 Iditarod.Registered as of November 3: Richie Diehl, Dena’ina Athabascan (he placed a career-best 14th in 2014); Pete Kaiser, Yup’ik (5th, 2012); brothers Robert Redington (rookie) and Ryan Redington (18th, 2007), Inupiaq, and their half-brother, Ray Redington Jr. (5th, 2013); and Michael Williams Jr., Yup’ik (8th, 2012). Rookie Lars Monsen, Sami from Norway, is also registered. The Indigenous presence in the 2016 race could grow; yet to register is John Baker, Inupiaq, the 2011 champion who has 13 top-10 finishes. Registration closes on December 1.The current field is a formidable one. It includes Martin Buser, four-time champion; Dee Dee Jonrowe, two-time runner-up and 16-time top-10 finisher; Jeff King, four-time champion whose attempt at a fifth title was derailed by a blinding storm near the finish line in 2014; Dallas Seavey, the 2012, 2014 and 2015 champion; Mitch Seavey, the 2004 and 2013 champion who placed second to his son in 2015; Robert Sorlie, two-time champion; and Aliy Zirkle, who finished second to a Seavey in 2012, 2013 and 2014, and finished fifth in 2015.Arctic Scandinavia will be well-represented; registered are Tore Albrigtsen of Tromso, Norway; Sigrid Ekran of Alvdal, Norway; Dag Torulf Olsen of Hammerfest, Norway; Mats Pettersson of Kiruna, Sweden; Ketil Reitan, a native of Trondheim, Norway, now living in Kaktovik, Alaska; Joar Leifseth Ulsom – who finished 7th, 4th and 6th in his three Iditarods – of Mo i Rana, Norway; Monsen, of Skiptvet, Norway; and Sorlie, of Hurdal, Norway.Critical to a successful performance in the Iditarod if you live off the road network in rural Alaska: Good snow locally on which to train and, barring that, sufficient sponsorships to help cover the costs of getting to areas with good training conditions and to pre-Iditarod races.Fairbanks had a record one-day snowfall on September 29, with 11.2 inches accumulating on the ground. But in rural areas, like Aniak on the Kuskokwim River, it was still dry the first week of October. Diehl, of Aniak, said he and his team were training at home with a 4-wheeler. “Typical fall training,” he said. “I can do up to 25-mile runs on our island (Aniak is surrounded by rivers). Then, hopefully by November 1, the river freezes and I can get off our island.”Southwest down the Kuskokwim in Akiak, Iditarod veteran Mike Williams Sr., who’s helping his son and team train, reported “no snow” as of the first week of October, but added, “Gonna run ’em anyway.”Upcoming mid- and long-distance tests: the Knik 200 in Wasilla (January 1); the Copper Basin 300 (January 9); the Kuskokwim 300 in Bethel (January 15); the Gin Gin 200, in the Alaska Range (January 22); the Tustumena 200, on the Kenai Peninsula (January 30); and the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest, from Fairbanks to Whitehorse, Yukon (February 6).As of October 3, the Redingtons are among those registered for the Knik 200; the Redingtons and Diehl are among those registered for the Tustumena 200.Read more at


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