About half as many mushers as usual are signed up to race the 2019 Iditarod.
According to a press release from the Iditarod Trail Committee (ITC), 28 mushers signed up on the opening day Saturday. That’s compared to 52 mushers for the past two races in 2017 and 2018. 46 was previously the lowest number in the past 10 years.
Reigning champion Joar Leifseth Ulsom and four-time champions Jeff King and Martin Buser were among those who signed up for next year’s thousand-mile sled dog race.
Three-time champion Mitch Seavey and his son, four-time champion Dallas Seavey, did not register. Dallas Seavey withdrew from the 2018 race last October, in protest of the way the ITC handled the release of his positive drug-test results from 2017.
Western Alaska mushers Pete Kaiser and Richie Diehl also registered for the 47th Last Great Race. Other big names set to race include Western Alaska fan favorite Aliy Zirkle and 2017 second-place finisher Nicolas Petit.
In total, 26 veterans are on the list, plus two rookies: Jessica Klejka of Wasilla and Blair Braverman of Wisconsin.
This year’s low numbers come on the heels of tension between mushers and race management. Earlier this year, mushers demanded the resignation of Iditarod board president Andy Baker, citing “poor leadership.” Mushers have also criticized a personal-conduct rule they say is too strict.
Mushers have until November 30th to sign up for the 2019 race, which starts March 2nd in Anchorage.
Image at top: Mitch Seavey and Aliy Zirkle at the Iditarod finish line in 2013 (Photo: KNOM archive).