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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tourists Go To the Dogs

COMBINED REPORTS


ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- A 10-day race across 1,840 kilometers of frozen wilderness may not be your idea of a spectator sport, but tourists with several thousand dollars to spare are flocking to follow the Iditarod.


By air, dogsled or snow machine, a growing number of tourists have begun following Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race teams from checkpoint to checkpoint. They talk to mushers, take photos, collect discarded dog booties.


For the ceremonial first leg, riding two-time champion Martin Buser's sled was New York socialite Mary Lou Whitney, one of 57 fans who bid $37,300 to ride the first few miles of the trail Saturday.


Tourists on the trail include adventure-seekers and hard-core Iditarod fans. They come from as far away as Europe to follow the race by sled, snow machine or plane.


Anchorage pilot Steve Williams, who owns Ptarmigan Air, calls his Iditarod tours "absolutely a growing business.''


Williams charges $5,500 per person for those willing to arrange their own accommodations. This year he's carrying along a heater for one of his clients who plans to economize by sleeping in Williams' single-engine de Havilland Beaver.


Iditarod veteran and race organizer Joe Redington, 79, is leading his Iditarod Challenge for the fourth year, taking nine tourists up the trail. For $15,000, Redington's clients get to mush their own team to Nome with an Alaska mushing legend -- at a more leisurely pace than the racers'. ()