Iditarod

Thomas Waerner, seen here at the Iditarod restart in Willow, won the 2020 Iditarod.

The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race course will have a different look in 2021.

Iditarod race organizers and its board of directors announced a modified race route in 2021 on Friday, as well as a comprehensive COVID-19 prevention plan.

“The Iditarod is synonymous with community, perseverance, and ingenuity. The 49th race will channel the state’s rich history and tradition of the sled dog and honor the indomitable spirit of the 49th state,” Iditarod CEO Rob Urbach said in a press release issued Friday. “This modified race route and the execution of the COVID-19 prevention plan will enable us to maintain the integrity of the race and the psychic value of the coveted finisher’s belt buckle.”

In the release, ITC officials said these modifications are needed continue with the 49th Last Great Race during the COVID1-9 pandemic.

The new course is called the Iditarod Gold Trail Loop. The race route will follow a portion of the traditional Iditarod southern race route to the Iditarod checkpoint, and then continue to the mining ghost town of Flat before looping back to the southern route in a course that is approximately 860 miles. The route crosses the Alaska Range, Happy River Steps and the notorious Dalzell Gorge, twice. That’s something that has never been attempted for in this race, according to the ITC.

The Iditarod Gold Trail Loop does not feature any of the checkpoints beyond Iditarod, including the traditional final stop in Nome. ITC officials said that community leaders in the checkpoints beyond Iditarod are disappointed, but acknowledge the decision.

“We support the Iditarod’s decision to alter the race route for the 2021 race,” John Handeland, Iditarod board member and mayor of Nome, said in the release. “We understand the circumstances and wish they were different. The burled arches in Nome will be ready and waiting for the return of the race in 2022 for the 50th running.”

The site of the start and finish line was not included in the information released Friday. ITC officials said more information about the Iditarod Gold Trail Loop and additional details about the 2021 race will be finalized and released in the coming weeks.

Contact the Frontiersman at sports@frontiersman.com.

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