Downtown Anchorage hosts Iron Dog’s ceremonial start while other facilities in the Anchorage area to include Spenard Builder Supply, Cabela’s and Williwaw host pre-race events. Anchorage is a coastal community and Alaska’s largest city with nearly 300,000 residents to include personnel from both an Air Force and Army base. It is also home to University of Alaska Anchorage, the Alaska Aces hockey team, and a thriving tourism industry and events such as Fur Rendezvous and Iditarod. Thus an enormous turnout is expected to send race teams off from the Fourth Avenue starting line. Teams will travel 16 miles to Eagle River for a race restart the following day.
For years, Big Lake has hosted the start of the race with direct access to the Iditarod Trail and is the perfect setting for spectators to watch race teams speed off to their long expedition. Annual ice roads are plowed on the ice, allowing for vehicle access to all areas of the lake, and the starting line, also positioned on the ice, provides a flat field for teams to gather and prepare before taking off. The community of Big Lake is home to 3,000 people spread over 131.9 square miles. Big Lake is a longtime vacation and recreation area, though more and more permanent residents are moving there.
Until 1994, Nome was officially the race finish, tying Iron Dog to the Gold Rush history of Alaska, hence the earlier race name, Gold Rush Classic. In 1998 the race finish was moved to Fairbanks. Nome remains heavily involved in the race as a halfway point, perhaps more involved now than before. Instead of hosting the ending of the long journey, Nome now facilitates the Recreational Riders finish, numerous support efforts and crews, lodging and banquets for Recreational Rider and Pro Racers, and a race restart. Nome is in western Alaska on the coast of the Bering Sea, and the surrounding area is some of the most challenging on the course, due to ice shelves and open-water conditions.
Since 1998, Fairbanks has been the official finish of the race. Fairbanks facilitates the final rallying of Pro Class racers who completed the entire 2,031-mile journey. Fairbanks is home to the final banquet and awards ceremony. Since 2011, the racers finish near Downtown after traveling along the Chena River from the east through North Pole. Fairbanks is Alaska’s second largest city and home to more than 50,000. It is known as the home of University of Alaska Fairbanks, the popular Chena Hot Springs Resort and the World Ice Art Championships.
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Villages along Iron Dog route prepare for a party