Iditarod Facts

We're sure some of you have heard of Iditarod, but for those who haven’t, you’re probably wondering what it’s all about. In this video, you'll learn what it is and some interesting facts about it. 

What is the Iditarod?

The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is also known as “The Last Great Race on Earth.” It’s an annual sled dog race from Anchorage to Nome, which is about 1,100 miles. Mushers have teams of dogs, and the race can take anywhere from 8 to 15 days! Teams face conditions like blizzards, white-outs, and wind chills that reach −100 °F (−73 °C). It’s a huge event in Alaska. In fact, the mushers up there are considered local celebrities.

The Widow’s Lamp

During the days of sled dog mail carrier services, mushers relied on a series of roadhouses between their village destinations. Word of mouth was passed on to let roadhouses know mushers were on the trail, and roadhouses would light and hang a kerosene lamp outside to help the mushers see at night and to let others know mushers were still out on the trail. It was not extinguished until the musher reached their location. Today, Iditarod honors that tradition by lighting the “Widow’s Lamp” at the finish line in Nome. The lamp remains lit until the last musher crosses the finish line which is also how the race officially comes to an end.

The Dogs

It might go without saying, but we’ll say it anyway -- the dogs in the race are super hard workers. They need anywhere from 10,000-12,000 calories a day. That’s roughly the equivalent of 130 raw chicken eggs! But they get it from treats like chunks of meat, fish, or soaked dog food and there are also checkpoints along the trail where the dogs get a nice hot meal. Mushers need a team of 12-16 dogs, and the dogs are required to wear booties. They’re not to keep them warm, though. They’re for protection. The dogs are running over rough terrain, which can be hard on their paws, so booties are required. The dogs are also marked in two ways while on the trail. They are microchipped and they have collar tags. The mushers are given a packet before the race, and they must provide a list of which dogs have which tags so the coordination office can keep track of them.

Notable Mushers

Did you know there’s a Jamaican dog sled team? Not to be confused with the Jamaican bobsled team. In 2010, team member Newton Marshall became the first Jamaican to compete in the Iditarod. He goes by “Mushin’ Mon Newton.” In 2014, he helped rescue fellow musher Scott Janssen who had broken his ankle chasing after a loose dog. Janssen is a funeral home proprietor and is known as the “Mushing Mortician.” He made news in 2012 after he saved a dog using mouth-to-snout resuscitation.

Sled Dog Vocabulary

Mushers use their own language when talking to their dogs. A few different words are:

“Gee” which means to turn right. “Haw” means “turn left.” The dog who runs in front of all other dogs (and is generally both fast and intelligent) is called the “Lead dog” or “Leader” 

“Line out!” is a command to the lead dog to pull the team straight out from the sled. If you want to start the team you’d say something like Mush!, Hike!, Let’s Go!, or, All Right! And in order to stop their team, they yell “Whoa!” 


Thanks for watching CKC’s Talkin’ Dogs.

 If you’re ready to pick up sled dog racing, have any other interesting facts about the Iditarod, or have been to a race let us know in the comments! Remember to subscribe to our YouTube channel. Thanks for watching!


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