The Great Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race

The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race: The Toughest Race on Earth

The annual “last great race on earth” is taking place on March 3, 2012 with a starting time at 1000h in Anchorage, Alaska, United States. What is this race? This is the ultimate, competitive dog sledding race: the Iditarod. This dog sled race covers over 1,150 miles in 10-17 days through the roughest, toughest, coldest, darkest and most beautiful terrain in the North. It not only tests the skills of the musher and his team, but the mettle that they are made of. It is a race that only the most determined and the ones with the greatest heart will finish. Finishing the race alive is the goal. Winning is the dream.

How the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Came to Be

In 1964, Dorothy Page played an important role in establishing the celebrations for Alaska’s Centennial Year in 1967 by proposing a dog sled race as a venue for the celebrations. The first race was ran in 1967, and in 1969, there were two short races that ran along the Iditarod Trail. The face of the North was beginning to change with the invention of the snowmobile, and the tradition of dog sledding was beginning to disappear as the snowmobile took over the sled dog’s domain. Dorothy Page foresaw the demise of dog sledding, and approached Joe Redington Sr. with the idea of a competitive dog sled race. Not only were they preserving the tradition of dog sledding, they were establishing the Iditarod Trail as an historic trail.

The Iditarod Trail is located in the Yukon and was named after the last gold rush to the Iditarod mining fields. These fields are now deserted. However, the sled dog contributed immensely to the development and settlement of the North and the Iditarod Trail is a tribute to them.

Together, along with many others and government support, they brought their idea to life in the early 1970s. The first Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race was run from Anchorage to Nome on March 3, 1973. Since this first race, it is run annually and it is an event that attracts teams from around the world as well as journalists, film crews and tourists.

The Main, North and South Iditarod Trails

It is an event that involves the entire State of Alaska. The Iditarod race trail has been designed to pass through many small villages that would otherwise not see any visitors. The trail is unique in that it follows much of the primary route of the historic trail, but changes for one segment of the race depending on the year it is run. For “even” years, such as 2010, it will run along the North route. For “odd” years, the second segment runs along the south route. By alternating annually, it allows the majority of smaller villages in the north and south to prepare and become participants in this event.

For 2010, teams will be gathering in Anchorage for another test of their skill, endurance, determination and will. Dog sledding is a sport that is unlike any other, not only in the sense that it uses a team of animals, but that the team is driven only by verbal commands issued by their musher. The lead dog must understand all the verbal commands spoken to him in order to guide the team accordingly. Needless to say, the lead dog is extremely intelligent and at times, it appears the lead dog and musher can read each other’s minds.


North Route for Even Years

South Route for Odd Years

Traditions in Dog Sledding

At the beginning of the race, it is tradition that the Widow’s Lamp is lit.  The Widow’s Lamp has historical significance in that it plays an important role for mushers out in the wild.  In the past, the trails were used by dog sledding teams to help deliver messages, people, food, mail, medicine and other dry sundries.  In the wild, the trails can become obliterated by the wind, snow and ice, leaving the traveller lost.  In order to help maintain a sense of safety for the travellers, kerosene lamps were lit at roadside checkpoints marking where the traveller has arrived and provide a guiding light in inclement weather.  The traveller would check in and either stay or continue along his trek.  Guides were sent out ahead of the traveller to inform the next checkpoint that the team was on their way.  The lamps served two purposes:  one to guide the traveller to the checkpoint and the second, to indicate whether the musher and his team had or had not arrived at their destination.  If he had not, the lantern remained lit and if it was believed that the musher and his team were in danger, a search and rescue party were sent out.  If he had arrived safely, the lantern was snuffed, signalling the journey’s end for the musher and his team.  Throughout this race, the Widow’s Lantern remains lit and will not be extinguished until the last musher and team cross the finish line. 

At the finish line in Nome, each musher, whether first or last, is greeted with the city’s fire siren and a cheering crowd.  For the last musher, they will be awarded the Red Lantern, which should not be confused with the “Widow’s Lamp”. 

“Awarding a Red Lantern for the last place finisher in a sled dog race has become an Alaskan tradition.  It started as a joke and has become a symbol of stick-to-itiveness in the mushing world.”  Signalling the end of the Iditarod after the last musher arrives home, the Widow’s Lamp is extinguished. 

The Many Faces of a Tradition

The Iditarod Trail Dog Sled Race knits the communities together but more importantly, it has been instrumental in reviving and continuing the tradition of dog sled racing in the North.  It has now advanced further into the toughest and most dangerous competitive dog sledding race in North America. 

Men and women enter this race and the first woman to place in the top ten was Susan Butcher.  The first woman to win the Iditarod was Libby Riddles in 1985.  Some of the men have achieved great accomplishments.  Rick Swenson is the only five time winner, the only musher to have entered 20 Iditarod races and never have finished outside of the top ten.  Norman Vaughan finished the race four times and at the age of 88 led an expedition to the Antarctica in 1993-1994. 

Ready to Compete or Watch?

The Iditarod Trail Dog Sled Race is the fiercest competition against Mother Nature and oneself while working in tandem with a determined team of sled dogs. The Iditarod - a race where every athlete finishes a winner.



Copyright 2010

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Beth100 profile image

Beth100 5 years ago from Canada Author

Rolly -- Yes, these dogs have great heart!! I am very greateful that you mentioned how much care their mushers put into them. So many people/organizations are against the race because of the image that has been painted of the mushers beating and neglecting their dogs. Perhaps, there is some truth to this, but many, many of the mushers (and dog lovers) would never do this to their team.

Thank you Rolly! Peace and light. Hugs too! :)

Rolly A Chabot profile image

Rolly A Chabot 5 years ago from Alberta Canada

Hi Beth... I used to attend on a regular basis while I lived in the North as well as the annual run from Whitehorse to Dawson City.

If I have had an impression left with me it is the dedication and the heart of these dogs. They are breed to work and work they do. The other impression is the great care their mushers put into them. It is an amazing thing to watch a musher come across the line and weep as he hugs each of his team.

Blessings and Hugs

Beth100 profile image

Beth100 5 years ago from Canada Author

Peter -- I envy you!!! Watching the races live!!! *sigh* And, watching how the race has changed over the years! I can sense how exciting this event is!! I'm going to meander over and read some of your Alaska hubs now.... Thanks Peter and I'm glad you enjoyed this article. :)

PETER LUMETTA profile image


Hi Beth, I lived in Alaska for 30 odd years and saw almost every Iditarod and quite a few up close and personal. Check out my Alaska HUBs i was on the trail near Galena working a gold mine! Really enjoyed the Hub.

Beth100 profile image

Beth100 5 years ago from Canada Author

Scubadoggy -- I've heard that watching the race in person is a real thrill! I hope that you make the opportunity to go and watch (and report back to me!)!! Thank you for the compliment. :)

scubadoggy profile image

scubadoggy 5 years ago

Hi Beth, first of all great picture! :) I've always wanted to go up and see the Iditarod race, and someday I will... Huskies are still my favorite dogs! Great hub...

Beth100 profile image

Beth100 5 years ago from Canada Author

Allie - The date is correct as I wrote this article last year. You can find plenty of great information on this race by clicking on the links that I have provided above. Feel free to leave any questions and I will answer them as soon as I can. Thank you for coming by.

Allie 5 years ago

Ummm. Isn't it going to take place in 2011? I think you got the date messed up. Unless this is from last year. Also, I am studing the Iditarod in class. Any helpful hints on where I can find information?

bobbyjones654321 profile image

bobbyjones654321 6 years ago

Very interesting!Thanks for the share!

Beth100 profile image

Beth100 6 years ago from Canada Author

Truckstop Sally -- Yes, I am familiar with him and have read his works when I was younger. Thanks for stopping by.

Truckstop Sally profile image

Truckstop Sally 6 years ago

Are you familiar with Gary Paulsen? He is a popular author in 4th-6th grade classes. He has written about the Iditorad, and from your hub -- it seems accuartely. What an adventure!

Beth100 profile image

Beth100 6 years ago from Canada Author

Mobile Wallpaper -- This is one of the best races to watch on TV. I enjoy watching it every year, and now I can stream it! :) Thanks!

mobile wallpaper profile image

mobile wallpaper 6 years ago from INDIA

very good, i have seen this on discovery channel, nice article

Beth100 profile image

Beth100 6 years ago from Canada Author

Larry -- lol Guess you'll never know why! XD

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King Larry 6 years ago

nope, sure haven't. why do you ask?

Beth100 profile image

Beth100 6 years ago from Canada Author

Katee -- We tend to overlook the little amenities and conveniences we have today. It was a struggle for the early mushers and many did not find the end of their run.

King Larry -- Guess you haven't met me, have you? :D

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King Larry 6 years ago

Wow, you couldn't pay me enough to race out there. no way. in fact, that steven guy is dang fool for agreeing to race in the freaking iditarod over an eskimo kiss. lol. that or he must really like you. or both. lol.

Katee 6 years ago

The modern race has many conveniences for the dog and musher. They have lighter sleds, warmer clothing and booties for the paws. How did the racers in the past survive this race without these items? This would be an exciting race to watch.

Beth100 profile image

Beth100 6 years ago from Canada Author

Arielle -- Sorry you didn't enjoy my article. Perhaps another would entertain you?

Arielle 6 years ago

U suke

Beth100 profile image

Beth100 6 years ago from Canada Author

Original Eman -- It's always with great pleasure that I write on a sujbect that will provide new information to my readers. Thank you for your terrific and positive feedback. I'll be mosing your way soon!

The original Eman profile image

The original Eman 6 years ago from london

Wow i've never really know that much on sled dog racing thanks for posting this up it was really good to read .check out some of my stuff and let me know what you talk to you soon

Beth100 profile image

Beth100 7 years ago from Canada Author

Eileen -- Which movie was it? There's been a few filmed based on this race. Yes, there are worries about the lacking of snow..but if there's a will, there's a way! Perhaps the midwest can send some? lol Thanks for leaving me your thoughts!

Eileen Hughes profile image

Eileen Hughes 7 years ago from Northam Western Australia

That was terrific and explained everything. I watched a movie about actually not sure if same race but seemed similar.

Thanks for sharing that, so are the games going to survive without much snow. It must be a worry for the promoters this year.

Beth100 profile image

Beth100 7 years ago from Canada Author

theherbivorehippi -- All animals are amazing athletes, but these dogs, they are dedicated and loyal to their sport. I'm glad you loved reading this. :)

Shelia B. -- Thank you for your positive feedback!

sheila b. profile image

sheila b. 7 years ago

Hi! I really enjoyed reading this article of yours. Thanks.

theherbivorehippi profile image

theherbivorehippi 7 years ago from Holly, MI

Great Hub! These dogs are such amazing athletes! Loved reading this.

Beth100 profile image

Beth100 7 years ago from Canada Author

Daisy Storm -- I forgot about Balto!!! It's such a great movie, thanks for reminding me and recommending it here. Thank you for your support!

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daisy storm 7 years ago

Wow, great informative hub on sled dogs. We have the movie: 'Balto'. Great one to see. This hub reminded me of it. Thanks!

Beth100 profile image

Beth100 7 years ago from Canada Author

Brandonfan -- WOW! He does? That's amazing!!! He's very fortunate with both having a great team of athletes and participating in this race. Thank you for your supportive comments.

Cari Jean -- Yes, I seen the movie -- I really enjoyed it. Have you watched 8 Below? It's a great movie too. I just love these dogs and their talent for pulling. Thanks for leaving your comments.

PDH -- Hey Maita, yeah, I think we'd both freeze up there!!! Maybe we should start a similar race down south? lol Thanks for dropping in! :)

prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 7 years ago from US

whew its cold there Beth in Alaska, thanks for the history too, first time to hear it, Maita

Cari Jean profile image

Cari Jean 7 years ago from Bismarck, ND

Thanks for this fantastic hub with such spectacular pictures. It reminds me of the movie, "Snow Dogs" have you seen it?

brandonfan profile image

brandonfan 7 years ago from Mid West

Awesome! Very informative! I have a great friend who lives in Alaska, and owns a sled dog camp. He participates in the race every year! Loved this!

Beth100 profile image

Beth100 7 years ago from Canada Author

Nicks -- Thanks for reading and leaving your comments. BTW, read a few of your articles -- they are insightful, professional and intriguing. Going back to your site to read more!

Nicks 7 years ago

Extraordinary! What a wonderful race to participate in and what a test of endurance and skill. Keep it going...

Beth100 profile image

Beth100 7 years ago from Canada Author

Steven -- :)

Sarah -- So, you think we can train Rex and a few others to run next year? Knowing you, you can do it! xoxo :D

Mtsi -- It is a great race to watch! I've never seen so many athletes compete at the same time on the same course. Last year, there were over 90 teams (that's over 1200 dogs plus mushers, replacement dogs, media, vets, etc). It's phenomenal! Enjoy watching it! And, thanks for leaving me your comments. :)

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mtsi1098 7 years ago

This is a great hub and wealth of information. I only briefly heard of this race but now I have much more detail. This would be interesting to watch...Thanks

Sarah 7 years ago

I loved this hub! it was extremely well written and the sources we're used very well. xoxo =] sarah

Stevennix2001 profile image

Stevennix2001 7 years ago

lol. yeah, that's true. ;) i can't wait then to get started. besides, your worth competing for. ;)

Beth100 profile image

Beth100 7 years ago from Canada Author

Jeremy -- Sooo glad that you've learned something new today! I love hearing that from my readers. Thank you. :)

Beth100 profile image

Beth100 7 years ago from Canada Author

Yes. I always keep my promises. And now, it's turned into a written agreement. I can't back out now--too many witnesses!!! lol

Stevennix2001 profile image

Stevennix2001 7 years ago

lol. does this mean you still promise to keep your end of the deal if i do win it. ;)

Beth100 profile image

Beth100 7 years ago from Canada Author

Steven -- The good about these athletes: they only whining they'll do is because it's too cold out and they're hungry! Great thing about dogs -- easy to please and they love you no matter what! I keep next year in mind for you, since this year's only a month or so away. lol

cojaqmarketing profile image

cojaqmarketing 7 years ago from Carmel, Indiana

Wow! I learn something new everyday...thanks for sharing.


Stevennix2001 profile image

Stevennix2001 7 years ago

Once again, you truly out did yourself. You described a sport to me that I knew absolutely NOTHING about, to where now you've gotten me completely interested in it. I'll definitely have to check my local listings to watch it this year to see what the fuss is about. However, if it's half as dramatic as I just read, then I know I'm in for a treat. Besides, too many professional sports athletes,in the NBA and NFL that I follow, whine and complain too much these days. I miss the athletes that competed to be the best as opposed for money and endorsements. Therefore, I could use a new sport to get into. Plus, I have some extra incentive to. ;)

Hmm...the iditarod seems like a very challenging sport. In fact, it looks like a guy with no experience racing in it, and is primarily used to warm weather, wouldn't have much of a chance in this event. heck, one could say it's suicide for a guy like me to compete. only an idiot from the southern part of the usa would be stupid enough to go. to compete not only against the elements of nature, but the best competition the world has to offer. however, if life has ever taught me anything, it's that I've always been a bit of a slow learner. lol. besides, there's this beautiful girl I promised I'd compete for. ;)

However, I doubt seriously, I'll be able to compete this year as I don't even make enough to afford the trip up to Alaska, let alone afford to put together a team in time. However, that doesn't mean I might not compete next year as I should be in a better financial situation to afford it then. Hopefully, the beautiful girl that I'm competing for will still be waiting with that eskimo kiss she promised. ;)

Beth100 profile image

Beth100 7 years ago from Canada Author

Dohn -- First, you're no knucklehead!! Second, I'm on a "North kick thing"....wait until you see my next one! You'll never guess! Thank you for the wonderful compliment -- it means that much more to me coming from you. :)

dohn121 profile image

dohn121 7 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York


This is one of the hubs that I kick myself after reading and mutter to myself: "Why the heck didn't I think of this?" My answer? "Because Beth100 could do a better job, knucklehead!"

Wonder work, Beth! I love huskies and malamutes and have an affinity for the Great North and the Yukon Trail. Hands down, this is one of the best hubs I've read since joining HubPages. Hats off to you!


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