Fifty-seven mushers have signed up for the 49th running of the 2021 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, using a virtual process in lieu of the traditional musher signups at Iditarod headquarters in Wasilla, held on the last Saturday of June.
Early signers got a reduced entry fee, which was encouraged by the ITC to mitigate the economic impact of reduced summer tourism. Mushers had in past years signed up at the Iditarod picnic, which drew a large crowd of fellow mushers and race fans.
“Although there continues to be a struggle with a global pandemic, economic hardships and social unrest, the Iditarod is the embodiment of resolve and continues to anticipate change while still doubly down on the integrity, spirit and self-reliance of the race,” said Iditarod CEO Rob Urbach. “With considerably more mushers entered at sign up day than last year, we hope that we can provide unifying inspiration.”
Those signed up between June 4 and June 27 paid a $2,000 entry fee. Fees rise to $3,000 between June 28 and Aug. 31, to $4,000 between Sept 1 and Nov. 30, and $8,000 after that.
To accommodate the new entry fee structure, the minimum guaranteed purse for 2021 will be reduced by 20 percent to $400,000.
Entries include current Iditarod champion Thomas Waerner, four-time champions Martin Buser, Jeff King and Dallas Seavey, plus 2019 Champion Pete Kaiser, 2018 Iditarod champion Joar Leifseth Ulsom, and another Iditarod favorite, Aliy Zirkle.
The majority of the mushers are from Alaska, but this year’s competitors also include international teams from Canada, Denmark, France, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland, plus the states of Minnesota, Montana and Wisconsin. Entrants include 15 rookies.
“Even before there was a single COVID-19 case in Alaska and before the start of the 2020 Iditarod, the ITC proactively engaged with Alaska’s health care leaders, state government officials and rural community leaders in contingency planning,” said Mark Nordman, the race director. “With the emerging COVID-19 pandemic, our primary goals were to protect our rural community checkpoints, and all involved in the race, including rural residents, mushers and volunteers. We overcame a number of logistical challenges and we were fortunate enough to finish the race in Nome.”
“In an effort to ensure the safest path through this pandemic for the Last Great Race, we are modeling three tiers of contingencies that correspond to a range of future COVID status predictions,” Nordman said. “There are many factors to consider, and we will make our best effort to provide the safest event possible in this changing environment.”