It’s hard to imagine how one would go about watching the Iditarod in person. The iconic route stretches more than 1,100 miles from Anchorage to Nome, and the race can last for weeks. The record for fastest winning time, set in 2017, stands at 8 days, 3 hours, 40 minutes and 13 seconds; the slowest winning time, in 1974, was nearly 21 days. Logistically, it isn’t a spectator sport. But for those of you yearning for that sweet, sweet Venn diagram of outdoors, winter, ice and snow, and sled dogs, the Iditarod offers something infinitely more exciting and more hands-on than watching passively from the sidelines: The best way to see the Iditarod is to volunteer.
Volunteering is a beloved and time-honored tradition at dog sled races be they prestigious or tiny, long-distance or short, but at the Iditarod -- the pinnacle of the sport, and far and away the most acclaimed and well-known race in popular culture -- it is truly something else. Around 1,500 to 2,000 volunteers pour in from all over the world, and many return year after year.
“If you’re a new volunteer, you just become one of us,” says Alaska-based photographer veteran Iditarod volunteer Toni Reitter. “It’s not like we’re cliquish, ‘Oh, we’ve been here for a million years and you don’t know anything.’ The sport is just one where, if you’ve glomped on to us, we’re gonna glomp on to you, because it’s such a small community that we’re excited when anybody new comes. A little too excited.”