Technically, the 2014 Iditarod got underway on Saturday with the ceremonial start, but the race will begin officially on Sunday with the restart. Mushers will begin the first leg of the 1,000-mile trek to Nome, traveling 42 miles from Willow to Yentna Station. It could be rough sledding ... literally.
Weather has been a recent issue, with a lack of snow and icy conditions causing problems, especially on the opening portion of the race. The trail from Willow to Skwentna was not in ideal condition, causing organizers to consider moving the start of the race to Fairbanks. Eventually the Iditarod Trail Committee decided to keep the start of the race in Willow with crews and volunteers working to improve the trail conditions. While that work helped, the trail still isn't in prime condition. The shallow snow depth could make rocks, roots, trees and other impediments an issue for the 69 mushers in the race. Here is how Craig Medred of the Alaska Dispatch described a portion of the trail:
A walk in the forest follows as the trail weaves around spruce trees before popping out onto ice with a thin cover of snow. Beyond this point is where things get gnarly. The route forward exits the creeks through a patch of low willows. Literally. There is really no trail, just the scarred, bent and broken willows that indicate "a snowmachine went this way."
Although the route will only encompass a tiny fraction of the total race, it could prove to be an important stage. The trail is expected to improve in the back half, but before racers can get there, they must first get through the rough conditions without injury or setback. Something as simple as a root in the trail could have a significant impact on the final standings.
Mushers may not have too many problems on Sunday, going through a relatively simple portion of the trail. Donald Bowers Jr. of Iditarod.com wrote that the trail on Sunday will be mostly flat to gently rolling hills. The action on Sunday is scheduled to get underway at 6 p.m. ET.