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Finally some snow for Iditarod mushers in Alaska

March 9, 2015

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) — Winter has finally cooperated with the Iditarod.

More than 4 inches (10 centimeters) of new snowfall greeted Stan Hooley, the chief executive officer of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, when he arrived in Fairbanks on Sunday, a day before the race begins.

“Seems a little bit more like the Iditarod when you actually have some snow around,” said Hooley.

Warm temperatures have played havoc with the Iditarod all winter long as the same stalled jet stream that buried the East Coast of the U.S. in snow has left Alaska unseasonably warm and dry. Officials last month decided conditions in the Alaska Range were so poor because of lack of snow that the competitive start of the Iditarod would be moved over the mountains to Fairbanks.

That wasn’t the only change officials were considering — the ceremonial start in Anchorage could have been moved to Fairbanks, as well, also because of the weather.

“It was closer than I’d like to admit,” he said. “We like to tell people the Iditarod will never be canceled, and it wouldn’t. But the possibility of the ceremonial start needing to be moved, as well, was very real.”

The temperature of 14 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-10 Celsius) and light snow in Fairbanks Sunday morning were very different from the conditions mushers faced in Anchorage a day before, when it was 40 degrees F (4 C) and rainy. Crews trucked in snow so mushers could travel downtown streets for the ceremonial start, but Hooley said if the event had gone on another hour, it all would have melted away.

Fairbanks hasn’t been entirely without weather worries, either. The race was to have started on the Chena River, but a string of days near the freezing mark prompted worry the ice wouldn’t be strong enough to handle the weight of mushers, dog teams and volunteers needed at the start.

Officials moved the start to land, and mushers will go about a half-mile (0.8 kilometers) before getting on the river.

The route change will put 78 mushers on an entirely new route to the finish line in the old Gold Rush town of Nome on the Bering Sea, most of it on river ice. The winner, who will pocket $70,000 and the keys to a new truck, is expected in about nine days.

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