These days the Iditarod is not just Alaska’s signature dogsled race. It’s a highly competitive professional sporting event that draws entrants and fans from all over the world.
When the first Iditarod was run in 1973, however, it was a minimally-funded, barely-organized scramble across the roadless expanse of Alaska, employing the traditional method of winter travel over lands that had been home to Alaska Natives for tens of thousands of years. Contestants had to rely on themselves, each other, and the residents of the tiny, predominantly Native communities along the route. It’s not surprising, therefore, that in its early years, the race was dominated by Athabascan mushers who knew that land and how to traverse it better than anyone else.
David James is a freelance writer who lives in Fairbanks. He can be emailed at [email protected]