Alaska: Mushers frustrated over cell phones on Iditarod trail

Mats Pettersson, of Sweden, mushes along the frozen Bering Sea coast outside Nome, Alaska, on Wednesday, March 16, 2016. He finished in 27th position of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. (Mark Thiessen/AP/The Canadian Press)
Mushers are expressing frustration over controversial rule changes the Iditarod made during a board meeting Friday.

The race’s Trail Committee is upholding rule 35, which for the first-time ever will allow the use of two-way communication devices, including cell phones and satellite phones along the trail.

In a release, the organization writes that it thinks the measure will make for a safer race.

“This rule change involved more than the usual amount of discussion and deliberation over the last eight months, which included a tremendous amount of input from the competitors in this event,” the release reads.

Racers criticise decision

Mushers have been critical of the rule, saying it represents one of the biggest changes ever made to the race. Wade Marrs is an Iditarod veteran, and was at the board meeting.

“Every musher there was opposed to the rule,” Marrs said by phone Friday afternoon. “It will change the race drastically I believe.”

Mushers said the measure could open the door to coaching and unfair advantages, a violation of race rules, but something that competitors say will be practically unenforceable.

“You can bet that someone’s going to call home and get help and outside assistance,” Marrs said.

Equipment changes

Marrs, like other mushers, cited the controversial rule 53 — the so-called gag-order passed last year– in reserving criticisms of the decision by the board to change the rule.

Another source of tension from today’s meeting is a decision to change where equipment can be carried on sleds. Rumors were circulating that the measure was a ban on trailers, which have been used by many of the top-performing mushers the last few years to haul dogs, supplies, and even a stove. The Iditarod Trail Committee said that is not the case, and will be sending out the new official language to competitors on Monday.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada:  Profile – Dog mushing in Inuvik, Canada, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Norwegian contingent prepared for Iditarod challenge, Alaska Public Radio Network

United States: Mackey withdraws from 2017 Iditarod for ‘health reasons,’ Alaska Dispatch News


Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media

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