This year’s Iron Dog snowmachine race will now start near Willow rather than Big Lake, after organizers moved it due to concerns about the lake’s ice stability following the deaths of two snowmachiners last month.

Iron Dog organizers said this year’s 2,000-mile Pro Class race, which sends two-person teams to Nome and then to Fairbanks, will instead start Feb. 17 at 11 a.m. at Deshka Landing slightly west of Willow.

John Woodbury, the Iron Dog’s executive director, said in a statement Tuesday that race officials had delayed a decision on whether to move the start “as long as we could.”

“The Nov. 30 earthquake, combined with a slothy freeze-up and deep snow with overflow this year caused concern among our board of directors,” Woodbury said. “We discussed our options with Big Lake residents, Mat-Su Borough officials and veteran Iron Dog racers, and we all agreed to opt for the decision that kept our riders, supporters, sponsors and volunteers safe. It was a painful but measured decision, but the folks at Deshka Landing have really stepped up and have agreed to host the race start this year.”

Shortly before Christmas, the bodies of LaVerne and Van Pettigen were found in Big Lake after the snowmachiners had last been seen Dec. 16. Volunteers Dan and Cathy Mayfield, who monitor ice thickness on the lake, urged people not to watch New Year’s Eve fireworks from the lake due to concern about its ability to support vehicles.

Racers in the Iron Dog’s Trail Class will start two days earlier on Feb. 15. Their start kicks off a three-day series of events listed on the Iron Dog website.

To reach the Susitna River boat launch where the race will begin, drive to Mile 70.5 of the Parks Highway, then turn on Willow Creek Parkway and follow signs to Deshka Landing.

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