Byline: Mark Thiessen
ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race across Alaska kicks off this weekend as usual, after warm winter weather nearly prompted officials to move the start hundreds of miles north to Fairbanks for the first time in a decade.
Temperatures have dropped, improving trail conditions and allowing the 42nd running of the world's most famous sled dog race to start as normal in Willow, about 50 miles north of Anchorage. The 1,000-mile race spans two mountain ranges, dangerous wilderness and the wind-whipped Bering Sea coast.
The ceremonial start, with a festival-type atmosphere, begins this morning in downtown Anchorage. Mushers will take a leisurely 11-mile jaunt on sled dog trails within the state's largest city, with fans lining streets and urban trails to cheer on their favorites.
On Sunday, the race turns serious as mushers drive their dogs to Willow for the official restart. Sixty-nine racers are expected.
Besides crossing mountains, participants will mush on the mighty Yukon River and make the last push for Nome on dangerous sea ice as they travel up the Bering Sea shore. The winner is expected in about 10 days.
Defending champion Mitch Seavey said the changing conditions are nothing new, noting measurable rain fell on mushers last year. Another year, racers saw a 100-degree temperature swing, from minus 50 to 50 degrees above zero.
''It can be really anything, and I think that's one of the neat things about the race is that you need to be prepared for anything,'' Seavey said.
Concerns about the trail were in areas south of the Alaska...