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Coastal Trail Conditions Look ‘Smooth’ for 2016 Iron Dog

Local snowmachiners travel on the river ice past White Mountain. Photo: Laura Kraegel, KNOM.

WHITE MOUNTAIN, Alaska — Last weekend, snowmachiners traveling here for the Valentine’s basketball tournament got a taste of the trail conditions Iron Dog racers will face this year.

White Mountain is the last checkpoint before Iron Dog teams stop in Nome for their halfway layover. It’s a lucrative stretch of trail: The Bering Sea Lion’s Club awards a $5,000 prize to the team with the fastest time. This year, locals say conditions are excellent.

“It’s pretty smooth. There’s a lot of snow this year on the ice and on the trail all the way,” said Golovin resident Craig Willoya, who drives his snowmachine on the trail regularly. “It’s good enough that even cars from down in Golovin can make it up to here in White Mountain.”

Still, trail conditions and weather can change fast. That was Nome resident Kathy Holly’s experience on the trail from Council last weekend.

“The trip was really nice, but the whole way on the coast, it was so windy,” she said. “I got frostbite so bad on my face.”

White Mountain Mayor Dan Harrelson said Iron Dog racers need to be prepared.

“Things can change in a minute from a nice, smooth-running race to a life-and-death situation,” he said.

The White Mountain community has beefed up its trailing marking system.

“If racers do not follow the marked trail, they can get in a lot of trouble,” said Harrelson. “Last year, there were folks that sank snowmachines out on Golovin Bay in deep overflow.”

When he arrived in Nome last year, 2015 Iron Dog champion Eric Quam said conditions were especially difficult along the Norton Sound coast.

“It’s been a very challenging trail,” he said. “It’s tough being the guy in front, putting the first set of tracks.”

The 2016 Iron Dog starts Saturday in Anchorage. Forty-one pro-class teams and seven recreational teams are set to restart from Big Lake on Sunday. The first teams are expected to cross the finish line in Fairbanks the following weekend.