Joar Leifseth Ulsom is the champion of Iditarod 2018.
The 31-year-old musher, who ran his first Iditarod only five years ago, pulled under Nome’s Burled Arch early Wednesday morning to claim first place in Iditarod 46. Ulsom’s win makes him the first Norwegian musher to win the 1,000-mile sled dog race since Robert Sørlie in 2005. Ulsom explained Sorlie’s huge influence.
“It’s been a dream for me. Since he won it, I’ve been watching him … it’s just, it feels good.”
Ulsom’s 2018 first-place title comes after an upset on Monday when Nicolas Petit, then in the lead, took a wrong turn down a stretch of trail on the Bering Sea coast between Shaktoolik and Koyuk. The mistake ultimately cost Petit about an hour and a half to get back on the right course and allowed Ulsom to take first position, which he maintained for the remainder of the 200+ miles to Nome. Ulsom says he didn’t know how close Petit was to him outside of Koyuk.
“When I left Koyuk, he was sleeping, or pretending to be sleeping, so I had no idea he was coming out right behind me there.”
Brutal winds and fresh snow slowed dog teams on the Yukon River, which contributed to what Ulsom describes as a challenging trail.
“It was a slow trail, a soft trail. We had wind and it was just, every leg was more challenging than the other legs.”
The trail took the southern route through the ghost town of Iditarod and Yukon communities: the first time the race has completed the trail in five years. Ulsom’s rookie year was the most recent running of the trail.
Ulsom’s rise to Iditarod champion has been swift since his 2013 rookie run. He took seventh place, and Rookie of the Year, in his first Iditarod in 2013; that year, he also set the record, which he still holds, for all-time-fastest rookie to finish the Last Great Race. Ulsom has placed in the top ten in all of his six Iditarod finishes, including two 6th-place finishes in 2015/2016 and two in 4th-place in 2014/2017.
Ulsom brought 8 dogs to Nome, arriving at 3:00am under the Burled Arch. He receives a check for at least 50-thousand dollars from a half-million-dollar purse and new truck.
Girdwood musher Nicolas Petit arrived into Nome at 5:15 this morning in second place. He says he wasn’t surprised at all that his run in from Safety was about an hour faster than Ulsom.
“My team’s been the fastest on the trail from Anchorage all the way to the wrong turn. We went fast on the wrong turn, and then we slowed down at the end of that because we went an extra 10 miles through some really soft, punchy, weird stuff looking for a trail.”
Defending champion Mitch Seavey arrived in third place at 8:11 Wednesday morning.
Davis M. Hovey and Ben Matheson also contributed to this story.
Image at top: Joar Leifseth Ulsom at the Unalakleet checkpoint on Sunday. Photo: Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media.