The outcast

Anchorage partiers cheer on infamous “Cat in the Hat” musher Hugh Neff at the start of the 2022 Iditarod/Craig Medred photo

The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, which for years put up with the antics of  Cat in the Hat-musher Hugh Neff, has now banned him, but won’t say why.

Neff says he got a letter from the race turning down his entry in next March’s event, but telling him he could try again in the future. The letter says he was rejected because of his performance this year, but provides no hint as to what was wrong with that performance or what he should do to qualify to race in the future.

“Pretty amazing how reality TV mushers can do as they please while others are easily annihilated,” Neff said in a text exchange this week. “I’m not the one who had a dog die this year because of my actions, or a few years ago at Alpine Lodge.”

The first reference is to musher Jesse Holmes, a star in the not-so-real reality TV series “Life Below Zero,” who started the year by declaring war on moose along the Denali Highway and ended it by turning his dog team loose in Wasilla to attack and kill a 15-pound, pet Havanese.

Between those events, Holmes finished third in the Iditarod.

Neff’s second reference is unclear. There were no dog deaths in the Iditarod this year, although a musher training for the race did have a dog killed in training when it was hit by a car. The third reference is this year’s Iditarod champ Brent Sass, who during the winter of 2015-16 parked his dog team outside a Denali Highway lodge and left them there unattended.

While Sass was in the lodge, several of the dogs – none of which were staked out – chewed their way out of their harnesses and attacked a Sass lead dog named Basin. Another musher arriving at the lodge broke up the dog fight, but by then Basin had been so badly mauled that he died.

Sass later made a big deal of the emotional turmoil he was suffering in the wake of Basin’s death, but seriously whitewashed the deadly attack.

He told an Alaska Public Radio reporter he “wasn’t sure what happened to the 5-year-old dog. ‘I left the dogs camping like I always do and when we came back down to the dogs, something had definitely happened. He’d gotten sick and was not in a good way. It went downhill fast.’

“‘“We did as much as we could. We gave him fluids and warmed him up and put him in a cabin. We did all we could to try and get him warmed up. But we couldn’t (save him).'”

After Sass’s team quit on him in the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race the next year, Sass compounded the original fable by suggesting that two dogs that collapsed were Basin offspring that may have inherited genetic weaknesses from their father. 

The reality was the dogs faltered for the usual reason dogs, like horses or people engaged in long-distance endurance events, collapse. They’d been asked to do more than they were trained to do. Or in other words, they went too fast too far too long, or some combination of the three.

This problem of letting the dogs exceed their redline happened to Sass’s team again in the 2016 Iditarod, where he once more brought up Basin’s name and emotionally suggested things would have gone better if Basin hadn’t mysteriously died.

The response of the Alaska media, ignorant of exactly how Basin did die, was to sympathize with Sass. The Anchorage Daily News reported that Sass’s mushing career “plagued with a series of mishaps absorbed another Sunday.” The newspaper did not mention the other mishaps, such as the two Sass dogs that had died in Quest races before Basin’s untimely end. 

The sympathizing got to be such that veteran musher Sebastian Schnuelle, then reporting for, was moved to observe that he really did “not understand how any musher, who has to be hauled off the trail with two dogs in the sled bag, is being praised. Some go as far as calling Brent a champion for doing that. Seriously?

“It used to be an embarrassment when you had to be picked off the tail. Where is this sport headed? What perception do the fans really have?”


Against this backdrop, and given Neff’s own experiences in the past and the experiences of other Iditarod mushers, it might be understood why Neff is confused as to what he did wrong this year or should do differently if he wants to be allowed into the Iditarod in future years.

Neff was long one of the Iditarod’s “rabbits,” dog drivers that allow their teams to go out at a pace faster than can be sustained only to falter somewhere along the trail as the rabbit did in the old fable of “The Hare & the Tortoise.” 

This sort of behavior was once common in many long-distance endurance sports, and still is in some. Fans of the Tour de France or bike racing, in general, know that the riders in the breakaway – the Tour’s rabbits – seldom win. And recognizing the importance of pacing, professional marathon competitions have in the past actually employed rabbits, paying runners who were good but not good enough to win to act as pacemakers for the top runners for half of the race or more before they ran out of gas and had to drop out or pull over and coast to the finish line at an easier pace.

The Iditarod used to be famous for its rabbits, but they have largely faded away in recent years as the competition has increased and the trail has changed from wilderness challenge to more of a race track. The teams that now go out fast usually stay in front to the finish.

Neff was behind one of those teams last year when the Iditarod arbitrarily decided he was going too fast and told him he could voluntarily quit, and come back again this year, or get tossed out of the race. The condition of his dog team at the time has been much debated.

The dogs in the team belonged to veteran mushers Anna Bondarenko and husband Jim Lanier, who had finally retired from the sport at the age of 80.  Many had thought for years Lanier had a top-level team compromised by the age and inherent physical decline of the driver.

Neff, who lost a battle with Quest officials who refused to venture out on the trail to help him with a sick dog that died during the 2018 race,  had been wandering in the mushing wilderness for a couple years after the Quest temporarily banned him and the Iditarod announced it was recognizing the Quest ban.

By this year, however, that was all history, and Neff joined the Bondarenko-Laniers to spend the fall of 2021 and the early winter of 2022 training up a team of their “Northern Whites” for the Iditarod. Those who saw the dogs on Alaska trails before the race said the team looked to be first-rate, and behind such a team, Neff did what he’d always done.

He took off down the trail like a rabbit. When Neff finally called for a halt halfway into the race to provide the dogs the Iditarod’s one required, 24-hour mandatory rest, he and his team were in fifth place behind race leaders Dallas Seavey, the only Iditarod musher ever officially and publicly linked to doped dogs, and Sass, another rabbit who famously ran his team out of gas at White Mountain, the penultimate Iditarod checkpoint in 2016.

Veterinarians at the halfway checkpoint of Cripple noted in Neff’s vet book that he had one dog with a  low body condition score, meaning it was basically getting too skinny, but allowed the team to make the 70-mile run to the next checkpoint at the village of Ruby on the Yukon river.

There was no objective sign of Neff’s team faltering along the way.

Iditarod records record his team was the third fastest of the top-10 teams into Ruby, and one of only three teams to best an average speed of over 6 mph on that tough leg of the trail. His team was a mph faster than that of Holmes, the driver behind the third team into Ruby, and made the 70-mile run almost two hours faster than Sass, who was by then the race leader and would go on to win in Nome. 

Other mushers said Neff’s dogs looked skinny, but most Iditarod dogs, like Kenyan marathon runners, do. And Bondarenko and Lanier have insisted there was nothing wrong with the dogs. But Iditarod race marshall Mark Nordman saw it differently and told Neff he had two choices: quit or be disqualified.

Neff chose to quit, and Iditarod issued a characteristically vague media statement claiming that “in conjunction with Iditarod Race Marshal Mark Nordman, Neff made the decision to scratch due to their concern for his race team.”

The race said nothing about the past history between Nordman and Neff.

‘Huge Mess’

Aptly nicknamed “Huge Mess,” Neff for various Iditarod problems ranging from his own frostbite to dog team mutinies, Mess was doing his rabbit routine in 2016 when his team revolted on Golovin Bay along the Bering Sea Coast about 100 miles short of the Iditarod’s finish line. It was there the dogs decided they’d had enough of battling blowing snow and glare ice and staged a sitdown strike.

Neff was not prepared for this. Like many an Iditarod musher on the final coast run to Nome, he’d switched out his long trail sled for a shorter, lighter racing sled and cut his gear to a minimum to reduce the load the dogs would need to pull.

Aware those decisions and the stalled dog team had put him in a predicament, he decided to push the rescue button on a tracking device now carried by all mushers. Neff would then spend a long, cold, 10 hours huddling in a tiny sled bag half into a sleeping bag waiting for help to arrive.

Veteran musher Dave Branholm who eventually went out on a snowmachine to find Neff and the team would later describe the musher looking like “he was frozen down in a coffin.” And by then, Neff’s then-girlfriend was already accusing the Iditarod of leaving Neff out on the ice to die.

Neff only piled on when he reached Nome by claiming he thought he was a dead man, and the finger pointed at Nordman, who claimed the Iditarod never got Neff’s S-O-S and suggested Neff had accidentally turned off his signaling device. And never mind that a satellite tracking system had shown Neff’s sled stalled for hours out in the middle of Golovin Bay, where no one stops for long let alone decides to camp.

On that occassion – neither Neff nor Iditarod – made any mention of the danger the dogs were put in at the time,  either, and no actions were taken against Neff for pushing the team until it quit. But then that is what has historically happened in the Iditarod.

A lot of teams have quit over the years, some of them driven by big-name mushers. And some teams have been abandoned by mushers looking to save themselves.

When things got too tough for Scott Janssen, Alaska’s “Mushing Mortician,” in 2015, he abandoned his team on the ice near the village of Koyuk to take a ride to safety when rescuers on snowmachines arrived to check on his stalled team. Luckily for the dogs, the late Lance Mackey, a four-time Iditarod champ, found the team, tied Janssen’s dogs to his own, and took them all to Koyuk.

No penalties were imposed against Janssen, who was back racing again the next year. He only made it halfway that year before quitting. After that, he took a year off, and then came back in 2018.

That year he stopped to help Lanier, whose team had stalled along the trail at the base of the Topkok Hills not far outside of Nome, and both dog teams and both mushers had to be rescued. After that, the Iditarod told Lanier it was time to retire, and the Alaska Legislature honored Janssen as a “hero.” 

Little attention was given to any danger the dogs were put in in that situation even though at least two dogs have frozen to death during past Iditarods and at least one more has come close. And the actual heroes in the affair – the group of snowmachiners who went into the storm to rescue Janssen, Lanier and both dog teams – got almost no mention.

There are strange things done in the midnight sun, the late poet Robert Service observed, and equally strange things done in the long winter dark. Lanier did become the first musher to be publicly booted from the race for apparently being too old to tend a team, and now comes Neff.

Prior to the latest sanctioning of Neff, the race has never taken any action against mushers for putting dogs at risk by driving them too hard or leaving them left exposed to environmental dangers. And to be clear here, the problem in these situations is not with “making” the dogs run too hard, per se, but in letting them run too hard.

Sled dogs, and many other dogs, live to run and can rather easily over-exert themselves. When they do this day after day in the Iditarod, they can get into a downhill spiral that leads to physiological deterioration which can result in collapse or even death.

Neff’s team might have been heading in this direction when he was forced out of the race last year, but they weren’t close to that point. Many a musher has observed that five-time Iditarod champ Dallas Seavey finished the 2016 race, his fourth win, with only six dogs in harness, and they looked far worse than Neff’s team did in Ruby, though none want their names attached to these observations.

They said they fear retaliation from race officials. The race in 2016 imposed a gag order on Iditarod competitors, warning them they could be booted from the event for speaking unfavorably about it. 

The Iditarod says this is because the race is all about the dogs. Neff said that is bull.

“They don’t care,” he messaged. “(They) never called to see how the dogs were. The head vet never looked at the dogs the whole race.”

As for the racing fitness of the dogs the Iditarod suggested he and Nordman decided should quit because they were already too worn out in Ruby, Neff added, “that within a few days of being screwed over, Jim started receiving phone calls by other ‘elite’ contenders asking about leasing his dogs that I am not allowed to compete with.

“The dogs that won the Kobuk 440 (three weeks after the Iditarod finish) and were in second place in Iditarod when their musher was removed. What a world.”

Run north of the Arctic Circle in Kotzebue at the start of April, the Kobuk 440 is the last big race of the Alaska mushing season. Richie Diehl, the sixth-place finisher in the 2022 Iditarod, finished second to Neff in the Kobuk this year. Diehl had reached Ruby an hour and a half behind Neff in this year’s Iditarod.

No questions were raised about his going too fast.

25 replies »

  1. You wrote a thought provoking article Craig. I can understand why it appears the same standards are not applied to all mushers by the ITC. I think the rules should change to require that every team must finish with the same number of dogs they start with — and that dogs be examined by veterinarian staff at every checkpoint to ensure no dog is run past its ability or placed in an unsafe/unhealthy situation. I don’t think teams should stop just to get a bale of straw and then take off — the dogs should examined by a vet at every checkpoint. The Iditarod should not be just how fast a team completes the race because that is what causes mushers to make bad decisions for their teams. As a retired musher I know how easy it is to rationalize a dog’s limitation and pushing a team too hard because of the competitiveness during a race. That may explain why some mushers rabbit the way you describe Hugh Neff’s mushing style. A musher’s attitude with taking responsibility for mistakes made needs to also be taken into account concerning whether or accept or reject their application to compete. A person who owns an error in judgment or a wrong decision instead of assigning blame to someone else will probably win a sympathetic ear from the Iditarod Qualifying Committee.

  2. Lot of words in this article, but it mostly circumvents the real issues.

    Hugh Neff is a dog abuser, he has been since the day he slithered into AK and infected mushing with his particular brand of poison. He has continued that dispersal of abuse everywhere he has miserably taken those dogs unfortunate enough to wind up in his “care” and his CV over the decades is well documented and known to those who actually know how he operates.

    Yukon Quest finally kicked him out and now it seems the Iditarod has finally had enough. The only questions remaining are why it took them so long and when they will continue the house clean of others just like Neff who have also sabotaged what once was a credible sport and event.

    Thankfully, some of the names that should be on the same list as Neff are not on the Iditarod lineup. Perhaps this is the year the race focusses on quality not quantity, enhances ethics and welfare, and steers the race back to something worthy of Alaska, mushing and real dog mushers who care about dogs for all the right reasons.

    Unlike Hugh Neff and plenty others, who have dogs for all the wrong reasons.

    • Dave: Just to be clear here, Neff didn’t sabotage “what once was a credible sport and event.” Iditarod dog care has generally gotten better over the years, not worse.

      And I would note that the dogs he ran last year were not his and were being monitored by others during training. It was in the ownership and training areas Neff has always had most of his issues. In this case, a stupid, old dog lover I know was involved in keeping an eye on the dogs in training, and some other stupid, old dog lovers I know said the team looked better at the Yukon than some other teams already starting to show scarecrow dogs from running them with calorie deficits.

      If Iditarod had set some objective standards and rejected Neff because he failed to meet those, it would be good. But this appears to be just more of the good old-boy stuff of different rules for different people based on who is liked or who is a fan favorite.

      I’d prefer the Iditarod set some standards. One might judge how much weight – percentage wise – a dog could be allowed to lose at various points along the trail and use that to decide which teams “look” good enough to continue and which should be tossed out or required to shut down until their dogs get back up to weight either because they haven’t been getting enough calories or because they’ve been poorly hydrated.

  3. Well written article Craig… always. I hope this isn’t the beginning of the end of our Iditarod. Reality Star folks always make me sick and keep fueling the myths that bring Cheechakos up here to fail every year. I hope the real Mushers will keep the, as Hobo Jim said… “One thousand fourty-nine” race alive.

    • Well written article Mr. Medred. Personally I feel like Iditarod has turned into a race of egos that only the rich can afford to run. It sucks.

  4. A Best Condition award, instead of the fastest time, would cause more problems than it would solve. It would make winning the Iditarod subjectively judged, like figure skating or Miss America contests. Comments here rightfully deride Nordman. So how could having Nordman, and vets that kiss his ass, deciding the Iditarod winner be a good thing? It would make the race a joke.

    • Tim: This presumes that the race is now free of subjective judgment. Could it get more subjective than removing Huge Mess this year just because some people don’t like him? And I could, but I won’t, cite all sorts of other cases in which the rules were treated subjectively to favor one musher over another and thus skew the results.

      A Best Condition award, based on the top-20 teams being vetted by a secret-ballot vote involving all the vets, might actually be less subjective than what the Iditarod has now. And I’m confident there are some past winners who wouldn’t have won this vote.

      • Craig,
        Pretty disingenuous to make it seem like Neff is blackballed “just because some people don’t like him”…there is definitely a lot of history here.

      • Yes there is, but others with similar histories somehow got treated differently. The only difference would appear to be that Neff isn’t as “likable” to those in charge at Irod.

      • I hate to say it but Aily Zerkel and Martin buser taught school on how to win the vets choice award. Effectively a secret ballot. Dogs scored at checkpoints and at finish plus a vote .

        Their method per Ailly was be super polite friendly and helpful.
        I saw her try to win a person over with a plate of cookies once ! Heck she even gave him socks and stuff! Tricky lady !
        Martin had a smile stamped to his face that was like concrete,totally unfair! He even held doors for people and shared his food .
        Yes nothing wrong with being nice but when being sociable is a primary prerequisite to winning an award it will not reflect who cares for their team most carefully.
        Aily and Martin did great dog care but their personalities always won the day and usually the award which really left many dedicated deserving teams out in the cold. Im glad they won but its not an accurate way to decide.
        The kicker is people want to race and will race for first regardless of where you put the money or award. Unless maybe you made it a system that gave say 1- 20 graduated life changing large prizes that made people take notice. Say 500k for highest scoring team 400k for next team and so forth.
        Otherwise as one serial nortonsound shut down team declared when faced with no purse “I would race for a bag of dogfood!”
        People are there to race . Dogs like to run!

        To get real money into the race the officials and board probably need changed .
        Good luck there .
        They stole the vote ,alaskans used to get a chance to vote for who was on the board by paying a 5 $ membership free .
        The new board couldn’t handle Alaskans having a say in representation and decisions so they quietly removed our option for area representation.

        While im on my toadstool I would like to clarify.
        Teams that shut down and wont go on are usually in fine physical condition.
        Usually they have just lost initiative or feel emotional stress . Or never had a strong understanding of why they run from place to place except its fun . So when the wind is in their face and its temporarily not so fun they loose interest in going. When it’s blowing 40 it’s awful easy for them to say – i cant hear you or isnt it closer to go back ?
        Confidence in a musher makes them happy and determined. When a musher looses confidence often the dogs key off them . They read a person like a book or easier than that even . Like telekinesis.
        When a musher gets confused ,tired , depressed ect the dogs do to .
        Occasionally its also because a leader gets dropped and frankly the other dogs have no clue what to do . So goes the leader goes the team.

        Shutdown teams since the 90s is rarely due to dogs in poor condition. It’s usually due mental issues of the driver or leaders . Occasionally a team is just tired of listening.
        Early years when mushing information wasn’t as developed it was a bit different.

        I think my toadstool fell over

    • Tim, have you ever competed in a dog sled race? I have. Judging the physical condition of a team is not subjective. It is medical based science, which is why there are veterinarians assessing the dogs. And I have had contact with Mark Nordman – he is a person who has good judgment and no one is as you say, kissing his behind. The Iditarod is already hard enough of a race to begin with mushers taking risks with their teams to beat the clock. I think the dogs need to be examined at every checkpoint by the veterinarians instead of the team blowing through in less than a minute as is often the case unless it is a mandatory stop. Dogs are stoic to begin with and even more so with sled dogs, so if there is something seriously wrong with a dog you may not see that immediately – but certain warning signs with an examination can alert the vet if there is a problem where a dog needs to be dropped. I think the ITC should change the race rules to mandate that all dogs starting must finish and be examined at every checkpoint, and there be more than three mandatory rest breaks, and then clock the time it takes to arrive at all checkpoints and add those up for each musher. And I intend to contact the ITC and offer that suggestion once this Iditarod is over. And you may disagree if you like — but be polite. Don’t use vulgar language — I can spot that at a glance and I won’t bother reading your reply if there is any hint of vulgarity or disrespect from you.

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  6. One change that could correct a ton of ills would be for the Iditarod to go to what I instituted for the first Yukon Quest, that was often referred to as the “Rod Perry Rule” by many in that race’s early times. What was it? It was a twelve dog upper team limit (first upper limit in LD sled dog racing, and at a time when the biggest Iditarod teams were numbering a few over twenty) and most importantly, a THREE DOG DROP LIMIT–a great game changer.

    Iditarod teams, that can drop many dogs, keep an overall team pace. As in any sport, not all participants are of equal athletic capacity. The athletically lesser dogs finally reach the point where they can’t keep up, and are sent home. Nothing wrong with any of that.

    Father of the Quest, Leroy Shank, who I had introduced to mushing and served as his early mentor, said as we worked together the winter of ’83-’84, said, “Rod, I want to keep this race SIMPLE, and I want to keep it CHEAP.” I had those foundations in mind and thought they would work hand in glove with easing up on the dogs.

    With but three dogs as your drop limit, you could simply not afford to drop a dog because he had reached the his endurance limit. You had to reserve those precious few drops for situations you had no control over. A sprain, a sickness, and such. Therefore, instead of pacing the team to the endurance level of the core of top performers, the careful musher would accommodate the pace least athletic dog.

    Leroy’s keep it simple, keep it cheap? The first Yukon Quest had a grand total of just twenty-seven dropped dogs. Twenty seven!

    I counted the drops on the Iditarod, including team evacuations, a few years ago, and if memory–at 80 admittedly slippin’–serves, I think there were more than 200. Maybe 300? Someone could count ’em up, but it’s a gob.
    Many had to be flown from remote locations. COMPLEX! EXPENSIVE!

    Ron Aldrich, only musher to have run both the first Iditarod and first Quest, wrote me right after returning from Whitehorse, a letter I wish I had kept. He praised the race in many ways, and of the team and drop limits admonished, “Don’t change one darned thing!”

    In an article in the local media about 4-5 years ago, entitled “The Iditarod Can Be Saved, Here’s How.” A number of big names in mushing were asked for their solutions. Many stated ways and means that if not coming close to that 12-3 rule, were very compatible with it. But it was Lance Mackey, with multiple Quest victories, who nailed it. He advocated, “get back to the old time Quest rule of twelve dog teams.”

    Actually, the three dog drop limit is the most important, most game changing part of that rule. When the Quest Board–probably not having a clue what my main reasoning was of how that would benefit the dogs–upped the drop limit to four, I threw up my hands in utter disgust. Any experienced driver can visualize the vast difference in increasing team pacing just that one additional drop gives you.

    Yes, there is one potential weakness in that tight drop limit, and I must leave it to more up-to-date racers and vets to say whether that aspect could be monitored.

    In a day when dog welfare issues abound and the race is on a diminished budget, not to mention the astronomical entry fees to cover race admin expenses, the 12-3 rule would provide a big relief.

    • A 12-dog limit would make the race accessible to more mushers, little doubt about that, and a 12-dog limit with only three drops allowed would reduce the costs of flying dogs back to Anchorage. But then again it would slow the race down, and part of the Iditarod motivation in recent times has been aimed at getting the race over with as fast as possible to save money.

      Thus the annual dismissals of the back-of-the-packers who used to add significant color to the race.

      Given the old adage that “a team can only travel as fast as its slowest dog,” I’d expect Irod to fear the sort of restriction you suggest. I just looked at the results from last year. Eight-four percent of the field had hit the limit by the time the race reach the coast, where it was once said the real race begins, and more than half of that group had dropped more than three.

      Former champ Dallas Seavey had already dropped four. Longtime contended Aaron Burmeister had dropped six; Jessie Holmes, four; and former champs Peter Kaiser and Mitch Seavey, 5 each. And the top-10 teams at Unk would drop another 19 dogs – an average of almost two per team – between there and Nome, with a full half of them dropping three or more dogs just between Unalkleet and Nome in an effort to maintain team speed.

      Among those five were Seavey Jr., the race runner up, and Jesse Holmes, who was third.

      The only top-10 finishers who DIDN”T drop at least three between Willow and Nome were winner Brent Sass, who dropped three to finish with 11, and Dan Kaduce, who impressively made Nome with all 14, the current starting limit. They were exceptions. The average top-10 team dropped 5.5 dogs to get down to average 8.5 at the finish.

      And if you take Kaduce out of the mix, the average falls to under 8 dogs per team, meaning 90 percent of the leaders on average dropped more than six between Willow and Nome to avoid sacrificing speed.

      The only conclusion one can draw from this is that limiting the top competitors to three dropped dogs would really slow things down, and that significantly drives up the cost of maintaining checkpoints. You forget that village volunteers used to play a big role in running those checkpoints. Now a lot of the checkpoint staff is Outside volunteers flown in from Anchorage.

      That costs money. Feeding them while they are in checkpoints costs money. Villagers increasingly want Iditarod to compensate them for hosting these people. Against this backdrop, it’s conceivable limiting the race to three dropped dogs might drive race costs up, not down. But the idea would be worth investigating.

  7. Harry ,
    It would be nice if life was as simple as you say .
    In 1984/85 the winner got 50 k plus a new truck?
    In 2022 the winner got aprx 50 k and no truck.
    Yet you still have brent sass ,jesse holmes ,hugh neph and other problem children putting it all on the line .

    If you adjust for inflation thats like winning about 10,000$ in 2022 . Truly a drop in the bucket. im told the current cost to run iditarod for each contestant is between 30 k and 150k depending who ,not counting lost wages. At least another 50k depending. It just doesn’t look like most competitors are racing for money or they would stay at home. the only way to win regarding money is to not participate.

    Car racers, marathons or even car street racers compete for no financial reward to race near death just to be the winner.
    Humans push the envelope. Always.

    The only people who really care about the money are the salaried officials like Mark Nordman who is involved in iditarod primarily to get paid. He makes over 100 +k maybe triple that .
    Rob urbach the ceo makes over 200 k .
    Got to count benefits .
    Mark nordmans words “each of you mushers cost iditarod 50k just to let you participate!”

    Mushers mostly don’t race for money far as i can tell . Sure there is exceptions.

    It’s really frankly gross that mark and rob who really have part time jobs ( Iditarod) they suck at and either couldn’t hold an important job or got fired from one (mismanagement and sex harassment allegations) respectively- are publicly maligning hugh neff and others who put their heart and soul into mushing. Feeding and caring for those animals 24/7 365 days a year.

    Yet those self righteous failures( mark and rob ect ) who make real cash and have turned Iditarod into their personal nonprofit piggy bank cash machine will deny
    Hugh neffs or jim Laniers dogs a chance to do what they love .

    I saw in the daily news where rob urbach said- hugh just isnt the caliber of musher we want in this race –

    A more accurate statement would be – rob urbach from the lower 48 – a man whos never raced a team and has absolutely no experience under northern wilderness survival situations yet gathers all the cash so its not available for dogteams yet mismanages all races he’s involved with is not the caliber of person alaskans want involved with a dog race across this great state( Iditarod) . ( rob was accused of many problems in his last position and got fired)
    Hes a dishonest lazy flake who doesn’t fully apply himself and is mark nordmans toady .

    Mark nordman is behind the failure of Iditarod in nearly all cases.

    The majority of professional racers no longer want involved with mark nordmans ongoing disaster .

    Note the race field has dropped by 2/3 over the past couple decades. Thanks to mark’s mismanagement and very poor treatment of mushers and their dogs.

    Mark nordman a man who who was a failure as a dog racer couldn’t even get into the top 20 back in the 80s threw his weight around and forced richie beaty the rookie of the year aprx 2019 to hook hiis dog back into the team at the finish line in nome to run further despite its illness and the dog went on to die under veterinary care . Thanks mark .

    What a bunch of self righteous incompetent hypocrites.
    Hugh neff is higher quality than the lot of you combined ,despite his struggles.

    Hugh neff a crowd favorite makes iditarod an interesting race .

    Mark and rob make it a failure.

    10 cents inflation adjusted.

    • Maybe it’s time for mushers to fully boycott the ITC and start a new “relay” event without Rob and Mark….those guys don’t have a monopoly on the Alaskan wilderness…why keep supporting their lucrative salaries at this point? Could also see interest for shorter ski joring events as well in the future up here.

    • My grandfather who had been in Alaska a long time before his death use to say the two trashiest groups of people are chimerical fisherman and dog mushers. Based on what i’ve seen, I think he might be right. The Iditarod and the Quest are dying slow well deserved deaths. Why? Because the quality of the individuals running these race today as highlighted here is abysmal. What kind of “dog” musher lets his dog team loose in an urban area? Or shows up to stuff his face in a lodge and leaves his dogs unattended? Sounds a lot like the new breed of ” trapper” we have where parking lots and well traveled recreational trails are now trap lines. Fits with the new breed Alaskan who thinks a PFD is the most important thing.

    • Dread: Some of these comments are a little over the top, but I’m going to let them post as fair commentary as they reflect what I’ve heard too many mushers say privately in recent years.

      And because it is more than a little ironic that Nordman, who has for years now been playing games with peoples’ psyches to manipulate and/or force back-of-the-packers out of the race for going too slow this year forced a front-of-the-packer out of the race for apparently going too fast.

      At what point does all of this make the event more reality TV than competition?

      This would all be different if Huge Mess’s team had shut down in Ruby, as it did on Golovin Bay back when, or the vets had said his dogs were in seriously bad shape, or if he’d pounded on one or more. But the race marshall making an arbitrary decision to boot Neff because the race marshall thought he was going too fast?

      That smells bad.

      I thought Iditarod should have suspended Neff for a year at least after the Golovin Bay nonsense. I don’t think the Iditarod should have booted him thise years sans a solid explanation as to what rule he had broken, and the decision to ban him for 2023 is just a double down on that earlier move.

    • My point is that the focus needs to shift from ‘first across the line’ reward to Best Condition’ reward. We might find sponsors more interested in the latter, and more willing to give up their sponsor dollars in that direction…. This would help the race, the mushers, and especially the dogs……Regardless of the character and/or motivation of race personnel….

  8. If you remove the reward for ‘first across the line’ and place it instead on the relationships between the team and the musher( maybe call it the Gold Kennel Award), this would all end. Whenever Man uses Beast to win, the beast always suffers.

    • Harry Kern
      I agree with that comment completely, endurance racing with horses has done this very thing with their BC Award (Best Condition) while they still issue a first place award. It is the BC award that has really gained clout over the years. This is the award that proves that the rider and horse are the perfect well rounded team and are so good they could continue another race. Animal welfare needs to come first and foremost over anything else.

      • I REALLY like the idea of a BC award for dog teams. Thank you for sharing. This type of awareness is something that sponsors can get behind and support. It’s a win all around!

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