Norwegian musher Joar Leifseth Ulsom has won his first Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. The 31-year-old Willow resident pulled under the Burled Arch in Nome at 3 a.m. Wednesday.

His team's steady and consistent pace helped him in a year that saw heavy snowfall and warm weather along much of the trail. 

The win shouldn't come as a surprise. Leifseth Ulsom has been zeroing in on the crown for years.

He was the rookie of the year in 2013, placing in the top seven in his first five races.

This time he closed the deal, reaching Nome first after leaving White Mountain with a three-and-a-half-hour lead on Girdwood musher Nicolas Petit.

Much of the talk about Leifseth Ulsom’s win will center around his passing of Petit Monday along the Norton Sound coast.

(Credit: Iditarod Insider)

Petit looked destined to claim his first title heading out of Shaktoolik, but his team lost the trail on the way to Koyuk. Petit backtracked when he hit the icy coast, allowing Leifseth Ulsom to take the lead-- which he never relinquished.

The move played an important role in Leifseth Ulsom's win, but it was less about overtaking Petit in flashy Hollywood style and more about an even, steady pace from his team. 

Many wondered how the race would unfold with Dallas Seavey missing from this year’s lineup. The four-time champion elected not to run in 2018 after four of his dogs tested positive for the pain reliever Tramadol following last year’s Iditarod. The issue led to a contentious off-season back-and-forth between Dallas and the Iditarod Trail Committee. He denied giving it to them, saying his team was sabotaged.

Instead, the duel between Ulsom and Petit provided interesting theater, more than compensating for Dallas' absence.

Dallas’ father Mitch, last year's champion, was at or near the top for much of the race, but he dropped his co-lead dog, Pilot, at the Skwentna checkpoint, and as the race progressed, it didn’t appear that the team recovered.

It became apparent in Unalakleet that he would not be repeating. 

In an ironic twist, Dallas instead opted to run the Finnmarkslopet, a 750-mile race in Norway. It began on March 9, and Dallas is currently leading the pack.   

Ulsom’s win and Petit strong performance ensures solid competition for Dallas if and when he returns.

The win is also significant internationally. Ulsom is the first foreign-born musher to take the Iditarod title since fellow Norwegian Robert Sorlie did it, winning his second in 2005. 

This year, 67 mushers from four countries raced: the United States, Canada, Sweden and Norway.

Credit: Jason Sear

Ulsom was one of two Norwegians in this year's race, the other being Lars Monsen. The veteran Monsen has a Norwegian television crew following him around documenting his every move.

Given Leifseth Ulsom’s performance, they may want to consider getting a couple of cameras on him next year, too. 

The win comes with a purse of about $50,000 and a brand new Dodge Ram pickup. 

Dave Goldman, Jason Sear, Bryan Bearss and DeeDee Jonrowe contributed to this story. 

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