WASILLA, Alaska — Another low snow year in Alaska has organizers worried about where to start the world’s most famous sled dog race.

The Iditarod always begins with a ceremonial, fan-friendly slow jaunt along the streets and trails of Anchorage a day before the start of the competitive portion of the nearly 1,000-mile race. The ceremonial start is scheduled for March 5.

A lack of snow last year north of Anchorage forced the start to be moved to Fairbanks from its traditional site in Willow, about 75 miles north of Anchorage.

The conditions in Willow are much improved this year but the problem is Anchorage, where the snowfall for the past two years has equaled only about two-thirds of a normal year.

“Our real challenge right now is trying to figure out whether we’ve got adequate snow to make Anchorage and the ceremonial start happen,” said the Iditarod chief executive officer, Stan Hooley. “We’re pretty confident in where we’re going to officially start the race. In terms of that all-important ceremonial start, we’ve got work to do.”

This will be the 44th edition of the race to Nome, and the ceremonial start always has been in Anchorage.

That won’t change, but Hooley says he’s not quite sure how it might look. He said in 1994 there wasn’t enough snow covering the 11-mile route from downtown and it was shortened.

During the ceremonial start, fans participate in an auction and the highest bidders – called Iditariders – get to ride with mushers on the Anchorage course. In the past few years, the auction has brought in more than $200,000 for the race.

“It’s an important part of our fundraiser mix,” Hooley said, noting it pays other dividends.

“Those (Iditariders) are our very best goodwill ambassadors because when they go back to their own little corners of the world, they do it with smiles on their faces and talk a lot about that experience.”

Hooley isn’t ready yet to shorten the ceremonial start and is hoping Mother Nature will help with late February snow.

But Luis Ingram, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Anchorage, said there’s no significant snow in the seven-day forecast and confidence is low for any after that.

Anchorage set a record for low snow totals last year at 25.1 inches. The total this year is 25.8. A normal annual snowfall total in Anchorage is 74.5 inches.

Hooley said there’s plenty of snow outside Willow and he’s pretty sure that’s where the race will have its official start March 6. The board of directors is expected to decide the official start location – Willow or Fairbanks – on Friday.

There’s also plenty of snow in traditionally difficult areas such as Rainy Pass, the Dalzell Gorge and the Farewell Burn. Snow in those areas is the best it’s been in 15 or 20 years, Hooley said.

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