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Lack of Snow Jeopardizes Annual Iditarod Race

Warm weather in Alaska makes Iditarod training a challenge

The Boston Globe, Jan. 11, 2001

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) No snow means no go for sled dog teams training for the annual Iditarod trail race.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to look out the window and know it's weird," race manager Jack Niggemyer said.

The Anchorage area normally receives 36.5 inches of snow by this time each year, the National Weather Service said. As of Wednesday, only 20 inches had fallen.

And in many areas, warm temperatures have melted the snow. November and December in Anchorage were the warmest since record-keeping began in 1915, the weather service said. The average temperature in December was 25.2 degrees, almost 9 degrees above normal.

The lack of snow has been especially hard on Iditarod rookies, who haven't been able to train properly -- and may have difficulty meeting entry requirements. To run the Iditarod, rookies must have completed at least 500 miles of qualifying races in the previous two seasons. Thirty-one rookies have signed up for the race.

The Iditarod itself -- a 1,100-mile endurance test from Anchorage to Nome, scheduled to start March 3 -- isn't expected to be hindered. There's still a lot of winter weather likely to occur between now and then.

Rookie Danny Seavey, 18, and his father, veteran Iditarod musher Mitch Seavey, have been relying on friends in Nenana, in central Alaska near Fairbanks, to train their 48 dogs.

Training on trails nearer to home in Seward, just south of Anchorage, has been out of the question; it was 40 degrees and raining Monday.

"That's pretty much the way the whole southern part of the state is," Danny Seavey said. "You can't be this far into the season and waiting for snow to train your dogs."

Without snow, many mushers have been running their dogs on bare tundra behind four-wheelers and carts.