From Kyle Hopkins in Anchorage --
Didn't see this coming. Iditarod officials say the race will indeed include the infamous Happy River Steps.
"We heard from our trailbreakers that the winter trail was no longer the better option based upon the amount of snow and wind in that particular section of trail over the last day,” race marshal Mark Nordman said in a prepared statement.
Officials had earlier said they planned to bypass the Steps, an often dangerous series of switchbacks found early in the race.
At the time, some mushers praised the move as a way to avoid injuries to dogs. Others said the Steps were an important part of Iditarod lore and belonged in the race.
Racers encounter the twisting stretch of trail between Finger Lake and Rainy Pass.
Following today's ceremonial start in Anchorage, the Iditarod begins for real tomorrow in Willow. One-by-one, 66 mushers will begin heading to Nome starting at 2 p.m.
Here is the announcement on the new route, sent to reporters today by the Iditarod Trail Committee:
Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race will be utilizing the Happy River Steps in this year’s race because the reroute has been affected by weather.
The Iditarod Trail Committee (ITC) announced this afternoon it will route mushers down the Happy River steps in this year’s race. In early February, the ITC made the decision to use a winter trail established last year that circumvented the steps and added a little over a mile to the distance between Finger Lake and Rainy Pass.
“While teams were still leaving 4th Avenue today, we heard from our trailbreakers that the winter trail was no longer the better option based upon the amount of snow and wind in that particular section of trail over the last day,” said Mark Nordman, Race Director.
As trail conditions are constantly affected by changes in weather, ITC, as noted at its early February board meeting, will consistently evaluate available options with the goal of providing the best possible trail.
The Race Restart begins tomorrow, March 4, at 2:00 pm in Willow, Alaska on Willow Lake.