By Justin Matley
The world’s longest, toughest, snowmachine race is always exciting, and the 2014 match was no exception. But last year, when news was shared about a possible first-time-ever, downtown Anchorage start, it was a little hard to focus on the race in motion while daydreaming about the year ahead. After three decades of racing, an Anchorage start is one of the biggest developments Iron Dog has ever known, up there with the 1998 addition of Fairbanks as the race finish. And now, after much planning and community support, Iron Dog has made good on their plans, adding another of Alaska’s largest communities to the course. For 2015, spectators and supporters can experience a more festive and approachable Iron Dog than ever before. All we need to do is show up in downtown Anchorage on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 20-21, and share in Iron Dog’s excitement for this monumental improvement.
Largely spearheaded by Iron Dog’s executive director Kevin Kastner, the Anchorage start has been brewing since 2010, with a massive effort to gain official cooperation and approval during the latter half of 2014.
“There’s been quite a few months of buildup to this, of course, so once we got the full approval from not only the municipality but JBER, the (Alaska) Railroad and the Port of Anchorage, yeah, we were really excited from both the perspective of the board and staff, and to a degree the racers have been real supportive,” Kastner says. “They recognize that it brings additional attention not only to the race but to them and their supporters.”
A benefit to the new start location is improved accessibility. Fans from all around the Anchorage Bowl, and those flying in from outside Alaska, can finally get a firsthand sense of the action and meet the race teams without braving the long drive to Big Lake. As for the racers, a ceremonial start means a bit of fun for them, too.
Spectators will find the Iron Dog teams more available and approachable. As Kastner puts it, they’ll be in a “nonrace mode” compared to the Big Lake start when teams are keenly focused on race preparations and visualizing what they’ll encounter down the trail. Kastner also emphasizes just how much of an improvement the downtown Anchorage start will be for sponsors and volunteers.
“Everyone will be able to duck into a local business to get warm, grab a hot bite to eat, have a coffee or beer, and relax and have a great time,” he said.
For this reason, Iron Dog organizers expect a lot more participation on all fronts. But if accessibility, firsthand experience and comfort amenities aren’t enough to entice a bigger crowd, then perhaps the additional festivities are. Iron Dog has a lot more to offer than a parade of snowmachines.
“Maybe some people aren’t interested in cross-country snowmachine racing but they’re interested in vintage races, the kids’ Iron Pup 120 race, or the freestyle show with X-Games riders showing another snowmachine extreme,” Kastner says. “From a spectator standpoint, it’s more exciting and will appeal to a broader audience.”
According to Iron Dog, fans also can expect plenty of hospitality from sponsors and vendors, food, T-shirt giveaways, and other fun.
As for any drawbacks to hosting in Downtown, there aren’t many. Of course people will need to navigate to the best parking options (watch for parking promotions from EasyPark and additional signage), and there are additional concerns with snowmachines or other moving vehicles involved with the race, and road closures and how that might affect certain businesses has been taken into consideration.
Fortunately, downtown Anchorage, including the Mayor’s Office, businesses and nearby residents are no strangers to hosting enormous events. Anchorage will now have a Triple Crown of knockout events to spark spring tourism and the economy. Iron Dog followed closely behind by Fur Rondy and then the Iditarod should make for some exciting, fun-filled weeks. Combined with Anchorage Centennial celebration activities, Anchorage, at 100 years old, looks to be ushering in a new era of tourism and prosperity. Visit Anchorage president and CEO Julie Saupe had already reported an increase in tourism and visitations to Anchorage in late-2014 even prior to new events and expos, and the prospects for continued growth through these events is promising. Best viewing areas for the ceremonial start in Anchorage
A majority of the action in downtown Anchorage will take place on Fourth Avenue for two to three blocks from D Street to G Street. Iron Dog teams will first head east on Fourth Avenue between G and E streets, then turn north on E Street, and finally along Second Avenue heading downhill past First Avenue and across Ship Creek before vanishing through Port of Anchorage property on their way onto JBER property.
Spectators will be able fill the sidewalks along this route, or even stand in Barrow Park or the hill on either side of Second Avenue. From the Iron Dog starting line to First Avenue is also the same route that will be used for an initial parade of teams. There’s plenty of room for all to watch the action.
Vintage and Iron Pup exhibitions will take place on Fourth Avenue from the starting line all the way to D Street and back.
As for the Flying Iron Freestyle Show, fans can watch the aerobatics at the EasyPark lot on Third Avenue, between C and E streets. The lot will be sectioned off with a specific spectator area and hospitality tent adjacent to the snowmachine ramp and landing area.
Don’t let parking get you down
Parking isn’t a problem. Arrive early and take your time finding a good spot. Iron Dog is cooperating with EasyPark and other facilities to ensure spectators have improved signage and even parking promotions to save a couple bucks. There are multiple parking garages within a couple blocks of all the events. Find a garage that’s connect with the Anchorage 5th Avenue Mall at Fifth Avenue and B Street, another garage connected to the bus station at G Street and Sixth Avenue, a garage at Fifth Avenue and K Street, or seek out one of many paid and free parking lots nearby. Another alternative is to park along the Delaney Park on 10th Avenue. It’s a bit farther to walk, but always a sure bet.
Starting Line Events
If you’re looking for a little more action to please your entire family, Iron Dog, in cooperation with other organizations such as Mat-Su Vintage Racing Club and Alaska Motor Mushers Club, and sponsors like Hard Rock Café and EasyPark, have a few things in store to liven up the moments before and after the releasing of the race teams. Enjoy the festive mood on two separate days.
Friday Evening, Feb. 20
The first Flying Iron freestyle show will kick off in downtown Anchorage. If you love watching freestyle exhibitions you’ll have another chance to see the show on the following day after the Iron Dog Start.
Saturday, Feb. 21
Vintage snowmobile “Shine & Show” and Iron Pup kids in front of Hard Rock Café. Racers must be positioned at the race pit.
Meet and greet the Pro Class racers.
Mat-Su Vintage Racing Club’s vintage snowmobile parade.
Closing of the pit area.
Color Guard, National Anthem and announcements.
First Green Flag drops for the first team
AMMC’s Iron Pup Kids Parade
Flying Iron freestyle show at the EasyPark Coho parking lot (Third Avenue & E Street).
An after party will be held at Hard Rock Café, and spectators can expect music, vendor hospitality, prizes and gifts, food and fun activities mixed with the scheduled events.
Race Restart in Big Lake
If you missed out on the Anchorage ceremonial start, you’ll have one more opportunity to wave the racers off on their journey. Iron Dog rolls up its sleeves and gets down to business on Sunday, Feb. 22, in Big Lake, on the lake. Race teams will be released in succession starting at 10 a.m. As in past years, each team can be watched as in past years as they speed away across icy Big Lake before vanishing into the Alaska wilderness.
Fans won’t find as much of a festive atmosphere as compared to the Anchorage start, but they will see the serious side of the race teams and witness their anticipation to compete.
Sunday, Feb. 22
Teams must be parked on the ice and start unloading. (Don’t be late!)
Race teams must be positioned at the start in the race pit.
Color Guard, National Anthem and announcements.
First Green Flag drops and continues in two-minute intervals.
End of the restart. (Time to pack up for Nome and Fairbanks.)
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