ANCHORAGE — Alaska’s largest city is so hungry for snow, organizers of the famous Iditarod sled dog race were forced to ship tons of it by train Thursday and dramatically shorten the event’s ceremonial start this weekend.
Here is a look at what it took to get Saturday’s fan-friendly parade of mushers and their four-legged teams back on track amid a warm winter that shrank Anchorage’s piles of race-worthy snow.
Doggone the weather
Persistent above-freezing temperatures over the last few weeks have melted much of the snow in town, including stockpiles the city tried to set aside for the ceremonial start. The competitive part of the 1,000-mile race kicks off Sunday, 50 miles to the north.
There have been other low-snow years affecting parts of the race, but this marks the first time snow was sent hundreds of miles by train to supplement the meager local supply.
Train to the rescue
An Alaska Railroad train arrived Thursday morning with seven freight cars full of snow that will be used to help provide a picturesque ground cover on the streets. The snow shipped south from Fairbanks could fill a football field by 2 to 3 inches, railroad spokesman Tim Sullivan said.
The fresh, clean snow will supplement the stingy amount of less-than-pristine local stuff left over for the Iditarod and Anchorage’s yearly winter festival.
The prettier snow traveled 360 miles. In Anchorage, railroad workers unloaded each rail car individually, pushing it into piles in a shadow-covered section of railroad property near the downtown depot.
From there, it will be distributed along the ceremonial start route, which has been shortened to 3 miles from the usual 11 miles.
How much did the shipment cost the Iditarod?
Not a penny. The freight cars were already available, and so was the snow in Fairbanks, Sullivan said.
The railroad already had a freight train running south, and it was just a matter of linking the cars, the railroad rep said.
Besides, it was an opportunity for the railroad to help out the community, as well as an iconic event, he said.
The snow must go on
This year, 85 mushers are signed up for the Iditarod, which crosses long stretches of unforgiving terrain, including two mountain ranges and the wind-lashed Bering Sea coast. At the starting line, mushers must have 12 to 16 dogs. They must have at least six of those dogs to finish the race.
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