After Scare, Alaska’s Iron Dog Race Is A Go For 2019

Iron Dog
The winning team from the 2018 Iron Dog race, Mike Morgan and Chris Olds.

It’s been said in song, in poem and in idiom that sometimes we don’t know what we’ve got until it’s gone. Luckily, fans of one of the most historic and grueling snowmobile races on the planet don’t have to learn that lesson the hard way — at least not yet. 

After dwindling revenues and attendance — and most recently some resignations from its board of directors — the leaders of the famed Iron Dog cross-country race in the Alaskan backcountry put out word last week that the immediate future of the event was in doubt. Most specifically, the 2019 race hung in the balance at a board meeting that was held last night in the Anchorage area.

Word came out after that meeting, though, that the Iron Dog board voted unanimously to charge forward with the 2019 event — dubbed as always as “the world’s toughest snowmobile race” — last night. 

“It was time to step up because I didn’t want it to fail,” Iron Dog President Jeff Johnson is quoted as saying in a story on the website for KTVA-TV, the CBS affiliate Anchorage. “It costs us $400,000 to put on this race and we have some super sponsors. It’s because of them that we’ve been able to keep this race going.”

In the story, Johnson said the response of racers and fans to a query looking for feedback on the event was great, and that the board hoped that adding newer and more board members would help shoulder some of the burden of hosting the race.  

The famed event, which takes two-member teams on a 2,000-plus mile adventure through the Alaskan outback where survival skills are almost as important as riding abilities, has a history that dates back to 1984. 

Below is the text from a post on the Iron Dog Facebook page last Thursday, when Lee Butterfield from the Iron Dog Board announced the resignations and the hardship the event was under: 

The Future of the Iron Dog

It is with much respect and thanks to years of service, that the Iron Dog Snowmobile Race has accepted the resignation of Jim Wilke and Skip Boomershine. Their dedication and hard work on the Iron Dog Board of Directors and as volunteers for countless years have been welcome and appreciated.

During my short time on the board of directors, I have heard Skip mention more than once that the Iron Dog was comprised of four main groups of people, and that a loss in any of those areas would shake the foundations of this great race. Those pillars are represented by the racers, fans, volunteers, and sponsors. Racers: who endure what is unarguably one of the most intense and dangerous events worldwide. Fans: who brave ice, wind, cold, and darkness to show their favorite teams how much they love them. The volunteers: who literally give up time and treasure to support this test of mechanical and human endurance. The sponsors: whose pocketbooks and generosity pay for this race and the prizes earned by teams. We have lost a significant piece of one of these pillars.

By no fault of the Iron Dog, its racers, nor the sponsor themselves, the race lost its title sponsor two years ago. The amount of investment from that sponsorship was a key component to keep the race running at the world class level that it has grown to over the years. After losing said sponsor, and the innovative and energetic personality of Kevin Kastner, the Iron Dog has unsuccessfully struggled to fill both of these losses this year. Due to those losses and the inability to mitigate them, the organization is running on empty. The coffers are dry to the point where we can neither pursue new leadership through pay, nor maintain basic staffing levels. On Tuesday August 21, the remaining board members will vote on whether a 2019 Iron Dog Snow- mobile Race will take place, but not without needed and valued input from the four pillars of Iron Dog’s success.

We want to hear from you. We want to hear from the racers, the fans, the volunteers, and the sponsors. We want to know your ideas on keeping the Iron Dog alive. Perhaps, most importantly, we want the race to not only take place, but for this to be a turning point in the Iron Dog. A point where the race can enter into the twenty-first century with a new level of engagement and participation. We want this race, which crosses three generations of competitors and fans, to continue for generations into the foreseeable future. In our hubris, we had forgotten to ask for help from the hundreds of professionals and hard- working people connected to the Iron Dog. That time is over.

Please, take the time to click here or visit our Facebook page for the survey and tell us what the race means to you. Tell us your ideas for saving it, and tell us how you are willing to make those ideas a reality. We have only one goal. That is to race in 2019. Beyond that we want to reintroduce a stronger, better, and more inclusive race in 2020 through participation and transparency that puts everyone involved into a position to be heard, and to help guide this most amazing event.

On a personal note, I came to the Iron Dog through a different route. I came to this event through the education system. I have to say that this event is so much more than a race. I have seen young people, who may have been lost from their path, find it through following the broken trail of these determined riders. In my small corner of this event, I have seen this race change lives for the better. I am personally not ready to let that go away. Please help us all continue.

This process will not be short and it will not be easy, but nothing about this race has ever been so. Thank you for your time, your ideas, and your willingness to move forward.

Lee Butterfield 
Board of Directors

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One thought on “After Scare, Alaska’s Iron Dog Race Is A Go For 2019

  • Avatar for Tom Behan

    I’d love to go to Alaska and see this race, but obviously its probably not geared towards fans in the bleechers event.
    We all know how politicians get elected. Get the word out, go after smaller donations.
    I very seldom see anything on the Forums I belong to on Facebook about this event, Why? Hire someone highly skilled in getting this done. Not one sledder in America should be ignorant of this race.
    I’ll be happy to donate too, not a lot, but something.
    I’m 67, long time business person, CrossFit fan, and a crazy backcountry rider, Polaris RMK, and Summit X, quit when I die. Good Luck.


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