'Iditarod is our Super Bowl': Fans celebrate along ceremonial start route
Hot dogs are sizzling on the grill. Beer and mimosas are flowing. Alaskans — some in costume — are cheering for their favorite competitors.
The celebration has many traits reminiscent of a Super Bowl party; but the athletes in this sport have four legs and the bar is made of firmly packed snow.
In Eastchester Park, a portion of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race's ceremonial start route takes mushers and their dog teams through the middle of the excitement, where an annual "Trailgate" party was attended by hundreds of race enthusiasts.
Organized by a group of roughly 10 people, the event is now in its ninth year.
"This is an Alaska tradition," said organizer Austin Quinn-Davidson. "So we just like to be part of it and invite friends and people we don’t know to enjoy it."
Greeting dogs and mushers, loud speaker in hand, Austin's wife Stephanie Quinn-Davidson could be heard running ahead of each team shouting chants to rile the crowd.
"I just love these dogs," Stephanie said. "I love the energy that they have and they’re just such athletes and I want to make sure that we give them a great welcome here."
Crowd favorites like Aliy Zirkle were greeted with chanting and 2018 champion Joar Leifseth Ulsom received a winner's welcome. Even rookie mushers enjoyed cheering and high-fives.
One fan said he stayed till the end just to see Lance Mackey, who appeared toward the back of the pack wearing bib No. 44.
Fifty-two mushers later, Stephanie said her phone recorded her running more than five miles before noon. She ran more than that last year, she said, when there were more teams racing.
"We don’t have professional sports teams in Alaska, so this is our Super Bowl. The Iditarod is our Super Bowl," Stephanie explained. "And so I just want to make sure that the mushers feel welcome and the dogs coming through — they look great — we just want to cheer them on. I mean, that’s just incredible, they're going a thousand miles to Nome."
Most mushers glided through the party with both arms outstretched to greet fans, but a few of them stopped on the trail to grab a gulp of beer and shake a few hands.
For Alaskans who shy away from downtown Anchorage when it's crowded with tourists, the party in the park is the perfect place to take in Iditarod festivities.
An official head count wasn't yet available, but all of the 450 beer koozies designed for the event were given out. Organizers secured a party permit, port-a-potties, and insurance for the event and Anchorage police officers strolled through the scene periodically.
In exchange for the free-flowing alcohol, hot cocoa, music and fun, guests were encouraged to chip in by making a donation.
Behind the snow-pack bar, organizer Zac Mannix was serving hot dogs and buns right off of the grill. Though he didn't get to see much of the excitement on the trail, he said the Trailgate event is exactly where he wanted to be.
"I think we do it just because of the people and everybody that it brings together," Mannix said. "And instead of sort of the chaos that is downtown, we bring our own organized chaos onto the trail."
Next year marks a decade for the trail-side party. According to Stephanie, plans to celebrate the 10th annual Iditarod Trailgate are already in the works.
"We're gonna go real big for it," she said.
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