Snowmachining in Alaska is huge. According to the study Outdoor Recreation, Impacts and Opportunities published by the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development in March 2019, one in twelve Alaskan adults owns a currently registered snowmachine. spawning an entire industry dedicated to meeting their needs for everything from the machines themselves to parts, trailers, trucks, equipment, clothing, fuel, and more.
Nowhere is this love of the sport more obvious than during the Iron Dog, when seventy-two riders set off across the state in one of the longest and most challenging snowmachine races in the world. In addition to the main event, which travels through rural villages throughout the Last Frontier, the race has also spawned trade and safety expos, ceremonial starts, halfway and final banquets, and other events that attract even more people to spend time and money on the sport.
"The Iron Dog goes through twentyeight communities, and I like to think that there's a real benefit to the people in those areas," says Iron Dog Executive Director John Woodbury. "It's a good way for the racers and the general public to meet, and it has a positive economic impact on the communities.
"There are twenty-nine pro teams riding 2,400 miles across Alaska, as well as fourteen recreational riders traveling half of that, and each person represents one or two or five family members cheering them on, as well as mechanics, support teams, and even snowmachine 'groupies,'" he adds. "This influx of people into Alaska in February definitely moves the economic needle, which is especially important in some of the more remote towns we visit."
A Legacy Event
Just like the Iditarod, the Iron Dog is one of the state's legacy events. Established in 1984 as a 1,000-mile race from Big Lake to Nome, the length doubled to approximately 2,000 miles during the 10th annual race in 1994. This year, the pro class racers will have to travel even further: a roughly 375-mile loop around Kotzebue has been added, making an already tough event even more challenging.
This year's race, which begins February 16 in Fairbanks and ends in Willow on February 22. has increased from 2,050 miles to 2,409 miles and will incorporate the Archie Ferguson/Willie Goodwin Memorial Snowmachine Race course. Recreational riders will travel 1,375 miles from Fairbanks to the halfway point in Nome via Kotzebue.
Racers will travel through numerous Alaska towns and villages, including Nenana, Manley, Shaktoolik, Koyuk, Buckland, Noorvik, Ruby, Ophir, Skwentna, and more, with mandatory stops in the towns of Galena, Kotzebue...