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Mixed feelings surround Iditarod restart decision

By Heather Hintze 7:45 PM February 17, 2014

Many mushers were hoping the race would begin in Fairbanks because of better trail conditions

WASILLA – The Iditarod restart will stay in Willow.

It wasn’t a decision staff came to lightly.

On Saturday a crew drilled holes along the Yentna River to see if the ice was thick enough to support heavy grooming equipment. A local construction company offered to help with a groomer that would grind the icy, rough trails into manageable snow.

On Sunday, staffers flew over the trails to Skwentna to get a look at conditions.

The Iditarod said it had to make a decision by Monday, Feb. 17.

After a nearly four-hour meeting, Executive Director Stan Hooley announced the restart would remain in Willow.

“Really the only thing we talked about as an organization was do we have enough to work with to make this a safe trail? Through a combination of the equipment and the people involved I’m confident that we do,” Hooley said.

Mushers have mixed reactions to the decision. Many were hoping the race would begin in Fairbanks because of better trail conditions.

Anna Berington said she’s been training her dogs from Eureka and Cantwell because there isn’t enough snow at her kennel outside Wasilla.

“You can see grass all around and this is just ice,” Berington said, running her Bunny Boots over the glossy trail.

That’s why she was confident the race would have to start in Fairbanks.

KTVA told Berington and fellow musher Nicolas Petit just minutes after the announcement that a decision had been made.

“What?!” they both said in disbelief.

In between traveling for training runs, Berington said now she has to figure out what she’ll need on the sparse trails.

“I always send out an extra sled,” she said. “So I’ll definitely send out extra sled and maybe in that extra sled some extra parts or something. Or maybe from the start I’ll carry a couple extra brake pieces. Last year I broke my sled and it was a good snow year.”

Scott Janssen, also known as the Mushing Mortician, had a sled all picked out to head down the Yukon if the race moved to Fairbanks. He’s glad that didn’t happen though.

“To spend 700 miles on a river, it’s boring for the dogs and it’s boring for us,” Janssen said. “It makes the time pass a little slower. Whether you’re going five miles an hour or ten miles an hour, when you’re going through the trees it just seems a little bit more exciting.”

The restart news means Petit will have to make changes to his team. On icy trails the fastest dogs won’t be leading the pack.

“Every time a dog slips on ice it could hurt her shoulder, wrist, hurt its back, so we’re going to take it really slow until we get to better trail conditions. Then we’ll pick up the speed a little bit,” he explained.

Mushers said they have to trust the Iditarod staff made the best decision based on what will be safest for the dogs.

“They wouldn’t make us go through it if they thought it was going to be bad for the dogs,” Petit said. “But we’re all a little bit apprehensive about it. They’re our best friends, we don’t want to hurt them.”

The Iditarod start begins in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1 at 10 a.m. in Downtown Anchorage.

The restart at Willow starts Sunday, March 2 at 2 p.m.

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