Organizers have decided there will be no course changes for this year's Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race despite a lack of snow in the Anchorage area



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ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Officials decided Friday there will be no course changes for this year's Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race despite a lack of snow in Anchorage.

The March 5 ceremonial start of the competition will be staged as usual in Anchorage, and the official start will be held the following day in Willow, about 50 miles north of Anchorage, Stan Hooley, chief executive officer, announced after an executive session of the board of directors in Anchorage.

"We're sure that we're going to be able to stage the restart out of Willow, as anticipated," Hooley told reporters.

A lack of snow in the Anchorage area last year forced organizers to move the official start of the race 225 miles farther north over the Alaska Range to Fairbanks. That had been considered again this year because of low snow totals from Anchorage to Willow.

Hooley said the snowpack on the Iditarod route after Willow looks dramatically better than it has been for a long time.

"The good part of it is, there's a lot more snow in the Alaska Range than we've had in many years," he said. That includes Farewell Burn, a dangerous area of the race that is notoriously barren.

"From Willow on, it's a much better year than most years," Hooley said.

This year, 86 mushers have signed up for the nearly 1,000-mile race to Nome, which usually takes about nine days.

Hooley had been concerned about whether there would be enough snow to stage the fan-friendly ceremonial start in Anchorage, where little snow has fallen this year and what remains has turned to hardened ice.

In the ceremonial start, each musher transports an auction winner over an 11-mile route of city streets and trails. The Iditarider auction program is an important part of fundraising for the race and its start in Alaska's largest city is also the highest profile portion of the Iditarod. It's carried live on statewide television.

The street department in Anchorage has been stockpiling fallen snow to accommodate the sleds. In addition, the Nordic Ski Association will provide a piece of equipment that will essential pulverize the hardened snow and ice on streets, turning it back into usable snow.

Still, Hooley is doing what he can — including snow dances — to conjure a little more snowfall in the next three weeks.

"We've been dancing a lot, and we'll continue that," he joked.

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