NOME GROWN— Iditarod musher Aaron Burmeister of Nome begins the ceremonial ride through Anchorage on March 2 with his Idita-Rider Tony Capone in the sled and son Hunter Burmeister riding the second sled. This is Burmeister’s 22nd run of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race.

Iditarod 52 begins with 38 dog teams on the trail

Saturday March 2, a sun soaked, 10°F morning in Anchorage, 38 mushers and their teams took to the streets for the ceremonial start of the 52nd Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Vast crowds lined the streets on the bright but chilly day to watch and cheer on their favorite teams as they made the 11-mile trip from downtown to the Bureau of Land Management Campbell Tract.
The first sled to be pulled through the streets was led by three-time Junior Iditarod winner Emily Robinson and this year’s honorary musher, Wilson Hughes.
Also present at the start of the race was Senator Lisa Murkowski and Mayor of Nome John Handeland. Wishing them well and homing for a safe journey to Nome, Handeland announced teams and read out the musher’s bios to the crowd.
The ceremonial day can spark a lot of emotion in racers and their dogs as they adjust from training alone out in the country to swaths of crowds, children reaching out to pet the sled dogs or to receive high fives and extra weight on the sled in the form of an Iditarider.
Before the ceremonial race begins, mushers and teams spend hours on the side of 4th Avenue and side roads preparing for the short ride while snapping selfies, feeding dogs and taking interviews.    
One rookie, Lara Kittelson driving a team out of Mitch Seavey’s kennel, anticipated that her nerves before the ceremonial start would settle down briefly after it’s over but come back tenfold for the official start the next day in Willow. “I’m so encouraged by how many people are here and I’m really just a combination of nerves and excitement,” Kettelson said.
The official race kicked off on Sunday March 3 in Willow with Anna Berington wearing bib number 2. Absent from the race this year is her twin sister Kristy Berington, with whom she has traveled the 1,000-mile race to Nome several times.
Before the race began, festivities honoring the hard work put in to make it to the start line took place. Starting Thursday February 29 with the musher meet and greet in the Dena’ina Convention Center. Racers delighted fans with the rare opportunity to chat, take pictures with and get autographs of their mushing heroes.
This was followed by the banquet where mushers pick their bib order out of a fur boot.

The line-up
Half of the 38 mushers starting the race are rookies. The other half are veterans featuring three champions Pete Kaiser, 2023 winner Ryan Redington and Dallas Seavey, and many top ten finishers including Nome’s Aaron Burmeister, Matt Hall, Jesse Holmes, Nic Petit and Mille Porsild. Burmeister took a year off in 2023 but he’s back with his team of veteran dogs hoping they’ll lead him to victory in his 22nd run of the Iditarod.
“I’m excited to see all the rookies because that what it takes to keep this sport going,” Burmeister told the Nugget.
Burmeister is carrying special cargo on this journey, the ashes of Howard Farley Sr., one of the founders of the Iditarod and an icon in the mushing world. Burmeister said Farley was the one who introduced his parents to mushing in Nome before he was born.
“I was born and raised around Howard and I’ve listened to his stories for years, fished with him, ran dogs with him,” Burmeister said “It’s a real honor to be able to represent the family and bring him back to Nome, give him one more trip on the trail.”
Rookie Bryce Mumford is a long way from his home in Preston, Idaho but he’s most excited for the time on the trail with his young team that he mostly raised himself, which he said is important to him. A few of his dogs are coming from Jed Stephenson who ran the Iditarod last year and also hails from Idaho.
Veteran Hunter Keefe who made his Iditarod debut last year told the Nugget before the ceremonial start he’s ready for his “vacation” to begin. Keefe’s contagious positive attitude must be fueled by the playlist he plans to out to his dogs, made for him by friends and family. He is racing with Raymie Redington’s dog team and said he’s more excited and less nervous than last year.
2020 Rookie of the Year Mille Porsild, now has a few Iditarods under her belt but she got teary-eyed thinking about all the rookies who will experience the landscape for the first time this year. “This trail is just mind blowing,” Porsild told the Nugget. “I think the trick is the first time you really get to soak up the magnificence of the land. The more you run it and the more you’re competing, the less you’re really paying attention to that.”
Porsild said she’s very confident in her team this year and is looking forward to putting the hard work spent training to the test. The teams will follow the northern trail route that heads north at Ophir and hits on checkpoints in Cripple before reaching the Yukon and its checkpoints at Ruby, Galena, Nulato and Kaltag. Portage trail takes teams then to the Bering Sea coast to Unalakleet and on to Shaktoolik, across Norton Bay to Koyuk, and on to Elim, Golovin and White Mountain. Mandatory rests are a 24-hour stop at the mushers’ choosing, one eight-hour rest at a Yukon River checkpoint and a mandatory eight-hour rest in White Mountain before tackling the last 77 miles to Nome.

New and old rules
Five years ago, the Iditarod reduced the maximum number of dogs from 16 to 14 after considering the expense of transporting dogs that are sent back home. This year, race officials announced the return to 16 dogs after the Iditarod’s Rules Committee and Iditarod Trail Committee approved the proposal. Teams must start with at least 12 dogs.
When the race originally started there was no limit for the number of dogs that could race. It wasn’t until later that limits were placed on team sizes.
Another change in the rules is a new addition to Rule 37, concerning dog care. It specifies that when leaving White Mountain, a “starting line” will be established that mushers can lead their dogs up to. “Mushers may lead their team from their straw to the line, however, no team is allowed to advance beyond this line unless all dogs are on the gangline, the musher is at the rear of the sled, and the team is moving under their own power.” the rules state, “If a team fails to depart as described from this line, a Race Judge will direct the team to return to the checkpoint where they must remain for an additional eight hours before another departure attempt may be made.” If the team will not leave as described a second time, a team may be withdrawn or disqualified.

On Sunday, March 3, the dog teams started on the trail at 2 p.m. in two-minute intervals from the restart at Willow Lake.

 

The Nome Nugget

PO Box 610
Nome, Alaska 99762
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Phone: (907) 443-5235
Fax: (907) 443-5112

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