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Readying the Iditarod trails

By Heather Hintze 8:13 AM February 27, 2014

Crews use heavy equipment to grind up hard snow, keep trails safe for dog teams

ANCHORAGE - It takes a community effort to put on the Last Great Race; even more so this year with the lack of snow.

When Dave Cruz heard the Iditarod needed help to keep the race in Willow, he offered his heavy equipment to groom the trails.

“What event in Alaska do you know that garners over 1,000 volunteers that come together in March to put on this event here?” Cruz asked. “It is Alaska, the Iditarod, and it’s a great deal to participate in and it’s a lot of fun.”

Before sled dog teams can hit the trail to Nome for the Iditarod, his crews have to get to it first.

“Not having such a killer snow year, the equipment allows us to keep the trail in runnable, safe condition,” explained his son, Ben Cruz.

The groomer didn’t have to go at it alone.

“We’re basically doing the finished groom after the Snow Cat has run though and left rough areas. We can clean up anything he leaves,” said Bill Luth, trail boss for the Willow Trail Committee.

He rode a snow machine with a mini “Mogul Master” to pitch in with the work. Luth said he enjoys all the prep work it takes to get ready for the race.

“My biggest kick is now with these new four-stroke snowmobiles — that they’re quite enough — I’ll be out on the trails grooming and I’ll come up on dog mushers and you get to talk to them while you’re grooming trails now,” Luth said. “Never could do that before.”

The groomers are a game-changer. The Iditarod thought about moving the race to Fairbanks because of the lack of snow. Once it decided to keep the race in Willow, one option was to move the trail through the woods if the snow was too hard. With Cruz Construction’s help, the route will stay on its regular course.

“They want to keep it on the lake for the spectators which is really important ,” Luth said. “So we did get three inches of snow this week which did make a big difference on how much we’ve got right there.”

The team ensures the trails will be safe for the dog teams when they take off for the 1,000-mile trek.

The bulk of the work should be done by Thursday. Snowmachines will go out on Sunday a few hours before the restart to do some touch up work.


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