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One of 12 Rookies Will Lead the Mushers Out in 48th Running of the Iditarod

Woman in purple parka mushes sled dog team down a snowy street in Anchorage.

Rookie Martin Massicotte of Canada will be the first of 57 mushers to race along the trail in the 2020 Iditarod, which starts this weekend.

Last night’s musher’s banquet saw Massicotte pull bib #2 out of the traditional mukluk. Bib#1 went to this year’s honorary musher Gail Phillips, who was raised in Nome, served on the Iditarod Board of Directors for four years, and worked in the Alaska Legislature.

The pre-race festivities also featured speeches from Nome’s Mayor Richard Beneville, Governor Mike Dunleavy, and Iditarod CEO Rob Urbach, who said the trail conditions this year feature the best snow the race has had in years.

Mayor Richard Beneville at the 2020 Iditarod mushers’ banquet in Anchorage. Photo from Davis Hovey, KNOM (2020).

Race Director Mark Nordman agrees with the newest Iditarod CEO. Nordman told Alaska Public Media that mushers can expect to see deep snow along the majority of the trail this year.

“So is it going to be slower? Possibly some, but really with these people that are trying to win it, nothing really stops them anymore. I think patience is the word.”

The 1,000-mile race will be more like 975 miles this year as the trail follows the Northern Route. Mushers will go from the race restart in Willow through the usual checkpoints to McGrath, then turn north to Ruby and Galena along the Yukon River, before hitting the customary Norton Sound coastal communities en-route to the finish in Nome.

Based on reports from the 2020 Serum Run Expedition members, who are currently traveling along portions of the Iditarod trail, just off the marked route are sections of overflow and deep snow. However, these challenges may be more problematic for snowmachines than sled dogs.

Regardless, Nordman told APM that teams may have some extra considerations to make with this year’s unusual amount of snow.

“It’s going to be a discussion amongst mushers, you know, just how they’re going to deal with it. As I told a couple people, I said, ‘You probably should be able to make sure you can get at your snowshoes if you want to get off the trail,’ which has not been the norm.”

Abnormal conditions along the Iditarod trail may be a benefit to those mushers that are attempting this race for the first time.

There are 12 rookies competing this year, now that Sean Underwood has taken over for four-time winner Jeff King. King reportedly was hospitalized Monday night after he experienced a hernia and perforated lower intestine, rendering him incapable of racing in what would be his 30th Iditarod.

The 2020 Iditarod Sled Dog race kicks off in Anchorage with the ceremonial start tomorrow at 10am, followed by the race restart Sunday afternoon.

Image at top: Iditarod rookie and former KNOM volunteer Tara Cicatello departs the ceremonial start line in Anchorage. Photo: Davis Hovey, KNOM (2018).