The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race traverses 1,000 miles of the wilds of Alaska — and, in the popular imagination, encompasses a lot of what makes Alaska, Alaska. There’s a lot of hype to the race. Much of it is justified.

Through my work at KNOM, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to see and cover 11 runnings of the Iditarod, which departs from Anchorage and ends just a few blocks from KNOM Studios in Nome.

Amid of a field of ice and snow, an Iditarod musher in a parka steps off of her sled to approach her dog team.
Iditarod 2011 musher Kristy Berington steps off of her sled and approaches her dog team to realign them along the trail, just several miles from the finish line in Nome.

As KNOM broadened its online presence in the early 2010s, there came the opportunity to cover the Iditarod not only on-air but also online — which meant a need for photography of Iditarod mushers and their dogs.

I feel honored and so lucky to have been able to contribute to this effort and to help capture snapshots of an incredible race.

Sled dogs in black-and-white silhouette.
Iditarod 2013: just a few miles before his championship finish, Mitch Seavey (not pictured) pauses his sled dog team along a stretch of Iditarod Trail that intersects a Nome road — allowing the headlights of KNOM’s “spotter vehicle” to cast his championship-winning dogs in silhouette. Black and white felt like the right treatment for this one.

There’s a festival mood, an almost carnival-like atmosphere in Nome when the mushers come to town — not least since the city’s population (normally about 3,500 people) swells considerably with tourists, Iditarod fans, race staff and volunteers, and out-of-town media.

Despite the added attention and excitement, the arrival of an Iditarod musher tends to be very casual: after 1,000 miles of racing, the musher and her team run the final quarter-mile down Nome’s main thoroughfare, Front Street, at a moderate 6 or 8 miles per hour. There aren’t fireworks at the end of their herculean journeys: just warm cheers in the frigid air and firm hugs from loved ones and friends at the finish line. It’s always a delightful sight to see.

Sled dog team mushes towards camera
When Melissa Owens Stewart finished her 2016 Iditarod, the Nome arrival was doubly sweet: Nome is her hometown. The dogs seemed excited, too.
Sled dog musher hugs child at Iditarod finish line
At the end of her 2014 race, Katherine Keith (green parka) embraces her daughter in the shadow of Nome’s finish line, the “Burled Arch.”
People holding up smartphone cameras to the Iditarod Finish sign.
Regardless of the time of day or night when the Iditarod champion finishes the race, there’s a large crowd out in force to witness the winner’s arrival. Few details go undocumented by race fans.
Iditarod musher in parka with snow falling around him at night
Mike Williams, Jr., finished his 2014 Iditarod at night. It was snowing lightly, and his bright headlamp lit up the snowflakes around him like a halo.

Every year, it’s been a fun race to shoot — but one year’s Iditarod stands out.

In 2014, I had the amazing opportunity to accompany KNOM’s reporter on the Iditarod Trail as a photographer and on-site blogger.

It’s an experience I’ll never forget — not least since one of the nights of the 8-day journey involved sleeping out under the stars, under the branches of a pine tree, at the remote checkpoint of Rohn. But that’s a story for another blog post.

Close-up of sled dog musher with snow-encrusted fur ruff
Nicolas Petit arrives at the brutally cold Yukon River checkpoint of Cripple, Alaska, in the middle of the 2014 race. This picture was taken as Petit was sizing up the checkpoint.
Crew of the Takotna checkpoint hard at work in the kitchen
The volunteer staff at the checkpoint of Takotna, Alaska, are nothing if not warm and friendly. Their hospitality extends to the food they serve: the tiny village is renowned for its Iditarod pies. They’re fabulous.
A sled dog team mushes along a frozen river, seen from a small airplane
Iditarod 2014: mid-way along the race, both the reporters and mushers found themselves on the frozen Yukon River. Traveling from one Yukon checkpoint to the next, our trail pilot banked low over the river to get a good view of a dog team nearby.
In bright sunshine, musher in a red parka leads a team of dogs along a snowy path.
In 2014, Aliy Zirkle and her sled dog team approach the Norton Sound coast checkpoint of Unalakleet.
Sled dogs rest in front of abandoned passenger railroad car.
In 2015, the Iditarod start was moved to Fairbanks on account of too little snow in the Anchorage area. That meant that the first half of the race involved checkpoints that almost never accommodate Iditarod mushers: like the village of Nenana, where one sled dog team rested alongside an abandoned rail car.
Sled dogs pause at Nome finish line, with city buildings and lights behind them
At dusk, sled dogs from the 2015 Iditarod team of Nicolas Petit rest under Nome’s finish line, the Burled Arch. After 1,000 miles, the respite is more than well earned.

All photos are copyright KNOM Radio Mission. (With the exception of the Kristy Berington image above, all images were taken with a Canon 5D Mark III.)