Iditarod increases entry fees

Visit http://www.adn.com/sports/story/8940456p-8840423c.html for the original printed article.A decision to raise the entry fee to $3,000 came after spirited debate during a meeting of the Iditarod Trail Committee’s board of directors Friday at the Millenium Hotel in Anchorage.Board member Dan Seavey from Seward, who ran his first Iditarod in 1974, worried the fee increase might force some mushers to abandon the race. Others complained that the board was acting with little warning to racers in the 1,100-mile sled dog marathon from Anchorage to Nome.”I don’t think many are seeing this coming,” said musher Jim Gallea of Montana, who serves as the president of the Iditarod Official Finishers Club.He suggested an increase from the present $1,860 to $2,500 might be more appropriate, but conceded most mushers probably can live with a $3,000 charge.”I know there are plenty of $4,000 dog sleds out there,” said Rick Swenson from Two Rivers, adding that many mushers buy two sleds for the race.”Maybe they’ll have to build that second sled,” said the most successful racer in Iditarod history.A five-time champ, Swenson has built a few sleds over the years, and he’s managed to survive primarily as a professional musher since the late 1970s. He took a cold-eyed businessman’s view of the fee increase.”Look at the cost of the straw for this past year,” he said. “$28,000.”Mushers, he said, should “at least pay the basic expenses of what it’s costing to get them up the trail.”Along with a boost in the entry fee for 2008, Swenson and a few other board members wanted to mandate a further jump to $5,000 in 2009. They were swayed by board members who argued that the race had never set entry fees more than one year in advance.The Iditarod estimates it costs the race $23,020 per musher for the 82 entrants who started up the trail from Anchorage to Nome in March. That’s $1.89 million all together.Air support to move food, personnel and equipment along the trail is the biggest cost. Communications to track teams and veterinary care are also costly, even though the trail veterinarians are all volunteers.Aviation gas, insurance, parts or repairs and general services totalled more than $5,000 per musher. Communications ran to almost $3,000 per musher. Vet services were $2,500.Straw used to provide beds for the dogs when they rest during the race came to $353 per musher.The board on Friday also considered three proposals the Iditarod Rules Committee thought might counter criticism of the race by animal rights groups. One proposal would have held any musher with a dead dog in a checkpoint for 24 hours after the death, effectively taking the team out of competition.Four-time Iditarod champion Jeff King from Denali Park appeared before the board to plea for the rule. He was worried about bad publicity if any champion lost a dog during the race.Not since the late Susan Butcher won in 1990 has that happened. She had a dog die on the way into the Nikolai checkpoint early in the competition.After lengthy debate, Iditarod board members voted down the rule change. As written, the rule change could penalize a musher for something beyond his or her control. The rule would have held mushers responsible, for instance, if a dog died after being hit by a snowmobile or in the care of volunteer checkers.”I think it’s a public statement, and I honestly believe it would make a difference in dog care,” said board member Mark Moderow of Anchorage, an Iditarod veteran.He contended the rule would force mushers to watch more closely for any sign of weakness in their team and that might help, especially in the stretch run along the cost to Nome.Swenson, who is known for superb dog care, didn’t buy it.”Did you see anything, Jim?” he asked, turning to Gallea, a third-year medical student and musher who had a dog die on the way into Safety several years ago.Gallea said there was no indication of a problem before the dog went down.Gallea added that he’d taken a look at the statistics of dog deaths in recent years and found there’s about a 1-in-30 chance that a dog in any mushers team will die.Some 30 to 40 percent of the deaths are never explained, and there is no pattern to where they occur. Dogs die in slow-moving teams at the back of the race, quicker teams in the middle and sometimes in the fastest teams at the front.Swenson noted the race marshal and chief veterinarian already have the power to throw a musher out of the race if there are any signs he or she did something to contribute to a dog death or abused a dog.Musher Ramy Brooks from Healy was disqualified this year for hitting his dogs and later suspended from competition for an additional two years.”It just needs enforcement,” Swenson said. “Enforce it to the letter of the law.”In separate actions, the board broadened the powers of the race marshal and chief vet to hold teams in checkpoints if they wanted to ask more questions about dog care, and will require mushers speeding through coastal checkpoints to sign veterinarian logbooks testifying to the health of their teams.

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