Iditarod will go on, despite poor trail conditions

Posted: Thursday, January 16, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Although trail conditions border on horrible at the moment, Jack Niggemyer, race manager for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, said the Iditarod will go on, no matter what.

Iditarod race rules, he noted, clearly say the Last Great Race starts the first Saturday in March ''regardless of weather conditions.''

He did, however, expect the field of 82 competitors to shrink significantly by race day. With warm weather and lack of snow canceling some mid-distance sled dog races across the state, Iditarod rookies are finding it difficult to find qualifying races for the big race, Niggemeyer said.

More than a dozen people sat down Wednesday to discuss the fate of the Iditarod and other winter sporting events that use the Iditarod trail.

To the north and west of Anchorage, water still runs open in portions of the Kuskokwim and Yukon rivers.

The Yukon River is safe to travel by dog sled or at reasonable speeds on a snowmobile, Niggemyer. But it might be dangerous to travel down the river at high speed paying less than full attention.

An Interior cold snap is making ice, he said, but water temperatures throughout the Yukon River basin remain 2 to 4 degrees above normal. That slows the buildup of ice in areas with fast-moving water.

Stan Hooley, executive director of the Iditarod, said he'd flown the southern part of the trail earlier in the week, and while fast-flowing sections of the Kuskokwim River contained plenty of open water, he could see ''pebbles'' on the bottom.

How deep can it be, he wondered, if you can see the bottom?

''People see open water,'' Hooley said, ''and they assume an over my head kind of thing.''

Hooley thought the open water he saw on the Kuskokwim couldn't be more than a foot or two deep.

Trails from Knik and Big Lake to the Susitna River are rough.

Defending Iditarod champ Martin Buser said he's training his dogs on the Little Susitna River because it provides the only smooth and slick running surface near his Big Lake home.

As bad as the situation is now, everyone at the meeting, hosted by Iditarod Trail managers from the Bureau of Land Management, agreed one good snowstorm could change everything.

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