FAIRBANKS - The 2017 Iditarod Trails Sled Dog Race has come to a close with the final musher, Cindy Abbott, crossing the finish line on Saturday and the awards banquet bringing all the stories of the trail together on Sunday.
For only the third time in Iditarod history, the competitive race started in Fairbanks on March 6 due to low snow conditions on parts of the traditional trail through the Alaska Range. Seventy-one mushers and their dogs left Fairbanks on a sunny, but cold morning, heading down the Chena River to the Tanana River, stopping at Nenana, Manley Hot Springs and Tanana on the Yukon River. Temperatures dropped as low as 55 below zero as mushers headed west on the Yukon River, to Ruby, Galena, Huslia and Koyukuk before joining the traditional trail at Nulato.
Among the early front-runners was two-time champion Mitch Seavey of Seward, who held on to the lead to win a record-setting third title, both as the oldest musher at 57, and the fastest time at eight days, three hours, 40 minutes and 13 seconds. He topped the defending champion, his son Dallas Seavey, who has four Iditarod titles under his belt. Mitch Seavey won $75,000 and a Dodge Ram truck valued at $40,000 from Anchorage Chrysler Dodget Jeep Ram.
Along the way, Mitch Seavey also won the GCI Dorothy G. Page Halfway Award, given to the first musher to reach Huslia. The award includes $3,000 in gold nuggets and a trophy. He also won the Bristol Bay Native Corporation Fish First Award, which included a $2,000 check and certificate for 25 pounds of Bristol Bay salmon for being the first musher to Kaltag. His 5-year-old lead dog, Pilot, won the Golden Harness Award.
Front-runners Nicolas Petit of Girdwood, who finished third overall, collected the Lakefront Anchorage First Musher to the Yukon Award, given in 2017 to the first musher to reach Tanana. Petit collected a five-course gourmet dinner, which he shared with village elder Blanche Edwin, and $3,500.
Petit also clocked the fastest time between the Iditarod’s final checkpoint, Safety, and Nome, two hours and 27 minutes. The $500 award is presented by the Nome Kennel Club.
Musher Wade Marrs collected the PenAir Spirit of Alaska Award, which goes to the first musher to reach McGrath. Because of the rerouted trail, the 2017 award was given to the first musher to Ruby. Mars received a $500 flight credit from PenAir and a framed print by Iditarod artist Jon Van Zyle. Marrs also was the first musher to reach Unalakleet, winning $3,500 in gold nuggets and a trophy for the Wells Fargo Gold Coast Award.
Rookie of the Year went to Sebastian Vergnaud, who placed 23rd in a time of nine days, eight hours, 27 minutes and 53 seconds. He received a $2,000 check and a trophy. Although Robert Redington, also a rookie, placed higher than Vergnaud, Redington was not eligible because he had started, but scratched, in a previous Iditarod.
Ryan Redington won the most-improved musher award, worth $2,000, for improving his finish by 22 places, from 36th place in 2009 to 14th in 2017.
Two Rivers veteran Allen Moore was honored with the Donlin Gold Sportsmanship Award, which includes $2,000 and a trophy.
Jessie Royer, of Fairbanks and Montana, finished the race in fifth place with all 16 of her dogs. She was awarded the Most Inspirational Musher Award, chosen by fellow mushers. It includes her entry fee for the 2018 Iditarod. Royer, who also finished the 2017 Yukon Quest Sled Dog Race with 12 dogs, earned the Alaska Airlines Leonhard Seppala Humanitarian Award, given to the musher who demonstrates outstanding dog care while remaining competitive.
Michelle Phillips of Tagish, Yukon, won the Northern Air Cargo Herbie Nayokpuk Memorial Award. The recipient is chosen by race staff and officials and goes to the person who emulates “Herbie: The Shishmaref Cannon Ball” in his/her attitude on the trail. Phillips won $1,049 in “pocket change” inside a Northern Air Cargo jacket.
The Golden Clipboard Award, for outstanding checkpoint, voted on by the mushers, was awarded to Manley.
And the final award, the Red Lantern, given to the final musher to pass under Nome’s Burled Arch, went to Cindy Abbott, who recently moved to Alaska from California. Abbott also received the Red Lantern in in 2015.