49th Running in the 49th State – Trail Reporting: Tuesday, March 9th

Tuesday, March 9th



Every year I read the stories of Balto and Togo to my students in order to introduce them to the sport of mushing and the history of the Iditarod trail. The picture that both stories paint of the blizzard is so powerful that it always seems to stick with the students afterwards. We talk about the weather during the Iditarod and the possibility of blizzards, which would result in the mushers not being able to see where they are going. This without a doubt leads to the following question…


How do mushers know where the trail is?

Joe Runyan on the trail into Nome on Saturday afternoon during Iditarod 2008. Photo by Jeff Schultz/SchultzPhoto.com (C) 2018 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Trail Markers Guide Berington Twins off Bering Sea into Nome. Photo Credit: Terrie Hanke













There is not one simple answer to this question. The primary component of an easy-to-follow path is made possible by the volunteers who spend quite a bit of time before the race clearing and marking the trail. First, a group of volunteer trailbreakers goes out on their snow machines to pack the trail and create an easier path for the teams to follow. Volunteers also spend countless hours creating trail markers to guide the mushers and help keep them on the trail. Some markers are a tripod trail marker, while others are a single stake in the ground with brightly colored tops and a streamer.


Trail markers set to go. Photo Credit: Dave Poyzer

However, neither of these methods are 100% guaranteed to keep teams on the trail, and mushers may still end up having difficulty. If this happens, they rely on the faith and trust they have in their K-9 athletes. These dogs actually have a variety of ways to follow the trail. Their  keen sense of smell allows them to follow the scent of the other teams. Some experienced lead dogs are also able to feel the difference in the snow – the more compact trail vs. the softer untouched snow off of the trail. Here is a link to an article that discusses this topic in more detail. https://iditarod.com/edu/how-do-sled-dogs-find-their-way/


Teachers: Have your class come up with their own NEW and innovative way to mark the trail for the dog teams going down the Iditarod trail. This would be a great STEM challenge!