Bad winter claims Iron Dog

Posted: Sunday, February 02, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Add another to the growing list of wintertime events canceled due to warm weather.

As a steady rain fell on icy roads Thursday night in Anchorage, the organizers of the Iron Dog snowmachine race met and voted unanimously to cancel this year's race.

Reports coming in from along the wilderness route shared by snowmobile and sled dog racers were uniformly bad. From Finger Lake to Puntilla Lake on the south side of the Alaska Range, there were walls of alder that would normally be buried beneath the snow. From Rohn in the heart of the range across the Farewell Burn to Nikolai, there was open water or no snow.

From Kaltag on the Yukon River for almost 100 miles over the Portage to Unalakleet on the Bering Sea Coast, the tundra was so bare that villagers had abandoned travel by snowmachine in favor of their four-wheelers.

And from Unalakleet on to Nome, the sea ice was either nonexistent or bad.

About two dozen grim-faced entrants in the 2003 Tesoro Iron Dog 2000 listened to all of this.

After a short discussion and some private talks in executive session, the Iron Dog board voted unanimously to cancel the 20th annual running of the 2,000-mile, race from Fairbanks to Nome to Wasilla.

''There will be no Iron Dog race this year, ladies and gentleman,'' board president Curtis Green said. ''I'm sorry.''

Race organizers said they were worried about injuries, possible environmental damage from running on snowless tundra, and the race's image.

Board member Tom Jensen expressed fears about the race coming under attack from environmentalists if any damage was done to exposed tundra, and he noted that riding conditions are so rough that racers could pose not only a threat to themselves but to spectators as well.

The board did discuss another postponement of the event, the start of which had already been pushed back a week, but another delay would have put the Iron Dog in conflict with the March 1 start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

Iditarod officials say their race is on no matter what.

The Alaskan Sled Dog Racing Association in Anchorage has yet to get its season started. First there wasn't enough snow on the trails. When the snow cover did finally get thick enough to open the trails, the weather promptly turned to rain.

The trails became icy, slick and sometimes dangerous. Because of that, the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race on the Peninsula was canceled this week.

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