Nearer, Iditarod, to thee

Weekly Cover | Rather than competing to be top dog in the world of mushing, Norway’s largest race is increasingly working together with North America’s most iconic runs

The world championship was not enough (📸: Aron Løsnes)

Aron Løsnes

The snow has finally fallen many places around Norway. That is a good sign for the many dog mushers preparing for the up-coming season, particularly those training for the long races, such as Finnmarksløpet and the Iditarod.

In the past decade Finnmarksløpet has grown significantly, both in the number of participants and and by the attention given it in the national media. The attention culminated this spring, when the organisation that runs Finnmarksløpet put on the sport’s world championship.

But hosting the world championship is not enough for Finnmarksløpet organisers. They are hoping to increase the number of foreign competitors, and are now looking to co-operate with the Iditarod, the sport’s longest, and certainly the most iconic, race.

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Norwegian mushers have long travelled to Alaska to compete in the Iditarod, winning it even in 2003 and 2005. This December, Per Aronsen, the chairman of Finnmarksløpet, will make the trip there to meet with Iditarod executives to discuss increasing co-operation between the two organisations. He reckons working together could would be valuable for the two races and wants to find out how to get more Alaskan mushers to Finnmark.

“It’s good for the sport that Norwegian mushers compete in Alaska, but we also want mushers to come to Norway,” Mr Aronson told High North News, a Norwegian website, earlier this month.

Getting mushers there is one thing. Getting dog teams between Alaska and Scandinavia is something else entirely, logistically and financially. For Norwegian mushers competing in the Iditarod, sponsors provide the funds to get their teams across. Mushers can also help their own financial cause by placing high in Alaska and earning a share of the prize money.

Increasing the purse of the Finnmarksløpet could be one way to make it more worth foreign mushers’ while to travel to Finnmark with their dogs, but it is not the only one.

Hugh Neff, 2012 champion of the Yukon Quest, a big Canadian-American run, participated in the Finnmarksløpet the following year. He brought with him his two lead dogs but made up the rest of his team with dogs borrowed from Scandinavian mushers.

Norwegian mushers have themselves started in the Iditarod with dogs borrowed from Alaskan mushers. Organisers of North American races would like to see more of this: one of the reasons Mr Neff ran in Norway was to promote the Yukon Quest amongst Scandinavians.

His efforts were not in vain. Eight Norwegians and one Swede have signed up for the 2016 Iditarod, scheduled to begin on March 5. Most of them are well-known nationally, and several have placed highly in previous Iditarods.

Originally published by The Arctic Journal. Re-published here with the permission of the author.

The Weekly Cover is The Rasmussen’s main story of the week. These articles will sometimes look ahead at one of the more important or interesting topics of the coming week, or they may provide insight and analysis about a current issue.

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