The race, which began as a challenge between mushers, is nowadays one of the most famous long-distance races and a testimony of the importance of dogsledding in history.
Every year, an open ceremony is held in Anchorage to cheer the competing teams. Fans from all over the world have the opportunity to meet the mushers and their dogs.
The Iditarod trail is one of the four National Historic Trails, and it was named after the town that in 1910, during the gold rush, was the center of the Mining District.
Explorers and travelers originally used this route to deliver mail and groceries as well as to transport gold and fur to Anchorage, Alaska’s capital. They learned from the natives that dogsledding was the sole means of transportation that was able to reach remote areas otherwise inaccessible during the winter.
During the gold rush, the mining corporations or concessions established stops and refuges all along the trail, where mushers and their dogs could rest. At the end of the gold rush, the area become a ghost town and the Iditarod trail was abandoned.
Mushers from all over the world and their teams of 16 sled dogs cover a distance of approximately than 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometres) and various checkpoints along the trail: 26 on the northern route and 27 on the southern route. The fastest mark was achieved by Mitch Seavey with 8 days, 3 hours, 40 minutes, and 13 seconds in 2017. The winner receives a five-digit financial reward from a total amount that is divided amongst the first 20 places, according to the different percentages granted to each position/ranking.
The journey between Anchorage and Nome, a city on the coast of the Bering Sea, changes direction every year. The trail goes in the northern direction during even years and follows a southern direction in odd years, covering 975 and 998 miles respectively. The mushers and their furry teams often endure snow storms and temperatures that can reach −100 °F (−73 °C) during the race.
Each team includes twelve to sixteen dogs, out of which a minimum of six must be pulling the sled upon the crossing of the finish line. No more dogs may be added during the race.
To ensure the well-being of the four-legged athletes, a “health diary” is written by the musher and signed by a veterinarian at each checkpoint. If a dog is injured or exhausted during the race, it must be transported to the nearest checkpoint to received medical assistance.
In 2018 the Iditarod Trail Committee Board of Directors introduced a new rule that states that a musher could be withdrawn from the race if one of the dogs dies. This regulation will be implemented as off the 2019 competition.