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Iditarod officials must review decision that avoided safer route out of Fairbanks

Posted: March 18, 2014 - 5:03pm  |  Updated: March 19, 2014 - 8:18am

The Iditarod Trail sled dog race officially wrapped up with the finishers banquet in Nome on Sunday, but it won’t be the end of the discussion about the decision to restart the race at its traditional location in Willow with perilous conditions facing the teams.

Why race officials didn’t move the restart north to Fairbanks to avoid the near-certain injuries needs to be reviewed.

Crews did what they could to reconstruct a trail made thin to non-existent by limited snowfall and late-season rains that turned much of the route to ice and barren ground through the Dalzell Gorge and the Farewell Burn.

But it wasn’t enough. Not even close.

Injuries to mushers, dragged by flipped sleds, were plentiful. Damage to sleds was rife. Curse words probably littered the trail by the hundreds.

Four-time winner Jeff King, of Denali, told an Anchorage Daily News reporter this year’s trail was “the roughest I’ve ever seen.” He’s run the race 22 times. Don’t believe him? Watch a video clip of his nightmarish run through the Dalzell: http://youtu.be/dAHa-6VkUQY

Two-time champion Robert Sorlie was blunt, telling the newspaper, “They should not send people out there. It’s not safe . I’ve never been so scared before in my life.”

Musher Gus Guenther, of Clam Gulch, flipped his sled on the rough trail early in the race, breaking his leg and forcing him out of the running. He told the Peninsula Clarion newspaper that the barren, icy trail made it nearly impossible to control his dog team.

“When I got out there from day one it was frightening,” he said. “I couldn’t stop or slow down.”

And then there’s Scott Janssen, of Anchorage. He crashed his sled on a rock-strewn part of trail and was knocked unconscious after his head hit a tree stump.

“I’m very disappointed we didn’t leave out of Fairbanks,” he told a reporter for The Associated Press. “It would have just been another race had we left out of Fairbanks.”

By nearly all accounts, this year’s race was the toughest and most dangerous in the Iditarod’s 42-year history.

Iditarod officials will need to revisit their decision to run the race on its traditional trail and forego a safer run out of Fairbanks, which had hosted the Iditarod in 2003 when conditions to the south were poor.

It’s always easy to second-guess a decision. But when you run a high-profile event such as the Iditarod, being second-guessed comes with the territory. The only responsible course of action now is for race officials to review the process that led to a decision that put people and dogs at a higher level of risk and to make public their findings.

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,

March 18

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