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Racers hit the trail for the longest snowmachine race in the world, Iron Dog

Snowmachines lined up on a frozen lake.

February 19, 2024

Ava White, News Reporter

Twenty-four teams of two left Big Lake on Saturday for a race north to Nome. The 2503 mile race, known as Iron Dog, is the longest snowmachine race in the world.

Iron Dog passes through over twenty rural communities, like McGrath, Unalakleet and Shaktoolik. They’ll face rugged terrain across rural parts of Alaska where temperatures can reach minus 60 degrees.

This year’s roster includes six returning champions. Tyler Aklestad and Nick Olstad, known as team number seven, are a couple of them. They’re going for their third Iron Dog win in a row. Aklestad said he’s feeling good about the race and the trail conditions. 

“I think it’s just another year, 20th year for both of us.”

Aklestad said he and Olstad prepared for the race with a regimented training program. He said they build their sleds early in the year, so they can start taking long trips early in the season. 

“I think that’s a lot of where the success has come from is that it’s consistent,” he said. We don’t try to deviate from that or get too riled up worked up.”

If Aklestad and Olstad win, they’ll be the second team in history to win three consecutive Iron Dog races. Scott Davis and Mark Carr won Iron Dog 1997-1999.

This is the first year Mike Morgan and Bradley Kishbaugh are racing Iron Dog together. Taken Feb 17, 2024. (Janice Homekingkeo, KNOM)

Two-time champion Mike Morgan said he’s been racing for about 20 years. He’s racing alongside a new partner, veteran Bradley Kishbaugh. Morgan said he’s excited to see what his team, number six, is capable of. 

Morgan said he’s looking forward to time on the trail with Kishbaugh. 

“He’s really fast. He’s a good kid. He’s strong. He’s hungry, and we’re excited to see what we can do,” he said.

Morgan’s last win was in 2018. He said his biggest competition is mother nature. 

“There’s some tough teams out there for sure. But I mean, we just, we don’t think about or worry about anybody else except us,” he said. “We know we know what to do, we know what we have to do, we just have to execute our plan.”

There are also some young competition in the race. 

Team 44, rookie Tyler Reece and veteran Haakon Wold, are the youngest team in the race. Reece is 19 years old, and Wold is 18. The announcer introduced them as “a team to look out for.”

The duo said they’ve been training as much as possible. They say they frequently ride the trail to get used to various conditions. Reece said he was looking forward to the ride to McGrath. According to the Iron Dog tracker, team 44 arrived in McGrath Saturday evening, and was in the top ten.

He said the team has one goal.

“Keep it clean and finish,” Reece said.

Racers are expected into Nome by Tuesday (Feb 20), and are scheduled to depart back to Big Lake on Thursday (Feb 22).

Photo at top: Over a thousand people gathered on Big Lake to watch racers leave the finish line. Taken February 17, 2024. (Janice Homekingkeo, KNOM)

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