Anchorage Daily News photo by Marc Lester of Frank Sihler of Wasilla driving his team in to Nikolai from the Kuskokwim River, 2004.

The Alaskan 2005 Iditarod Sled Dog Race, An Interactive Unit Study

by Sue Smith

Please note: There are a lot of sites with Iditarod information on the Internet... more and better ones all the time. I have attempted to reduce your stress and confustion by giving one to three sites for gathering info within the outline to the left. Not knowing your child(ren) I cannot be more specific. I suggest you use the Resource Suggestions as a jumping off point to create the best unit study you can. Start your students in earnest at the beginning to middle of February so they will be well educated before the race begins in March. Click on the purple addresses for a direct link.

I've also added a few
CREATIVE IDEAS at the bottom of the page that I didn't know quite how to fit into my outline. Scan through these and make note of which ones you'd like to use at which point in your study.

Be sure to also check out my Other Helps page which includes an idea for graphing your Musher's progress, Daily Statistic Sheets for both odd and even years, and pages for your Student's Unit Notebooks or quizzes.

Perhaps you'd like to use this Mushing Terms Dictionary to familiarize yourself with some terms before your study begins!

The following detailed study information below follows this outline:

I. Alaska
     A. geography, geology and the Northern Lights
     B. the animals
     C. the people
     D. state facts and the history of statehood
II. Iditarod
     A. history
          1. the serum run of 1925
          2. what "iditarod" means
          3. how the modern race began
     B. the rules
     C. the trail
III. Dogs
     A. why dogs?
          1. which kind of dog is best
     B. training
     C. feeding
          1. before race
          2. during race
     D. care
          1. before race
          2. during race
IV. Preparation
     A. physically
     B. mentally
     C. supplies
          1. clothing
          2. food
          3. dog care
          4. sled repair
          5. attaching the dogs to the sled
          6. drop offs at checkpoints
V. The Race
     A. Learn about...
          1. Ceremonial start in Anchorage
          2. Restart in Wasilla
          3. the trail
          4. dangers on the trail
          5. The Finish Line in Nome
               a. the Red Lantern
     B. Your participation as a Musher
          1. Musher's pre-race Banquet
          2. Ceremonial start in Anchorage
          3. Restart in Wasilla
          4. On the trail
          5. The Finish Line in Nome
VI. The Banquet
VII. Awards
VIII. More and Past Info

Outline Computer links and Other Resource Suggestions
I. Alaska Alaska's Chronological History can be found at . More History and Culture can be found through these links at SLED, Alaska's Virtual Library and Digital Archives located at . For some general Tourist info, click, or explore the Arctic Circle. Here's a 5th grade class project on Alaska: . Check out some of the spectacular photos of the Arctic region from the Artic Mission, a Journey of Discovery Across the Top of the World! at . A good lesson plan for the Study of Alaska called Lesson Plan #:AELP-GGR0029 has great creative writing ideas. Another good mini-unit on Alaska can be found here,
    A. geography, geology and the Northern Lights Educational videos, coffee table photographic books, and here is some excellent research material from the US Geological Survey Dept. at . Learn All About Glaciers. Perform interesting science experiements while learning about Permafrost in this lesson plan. This site, has some easily understood information with a Self Guided Tour on the Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights, with a great links page if you want more information. And if all that is not enough for you, here is another Aurora page: .
    B. the animals The Arctic region has many interesting animals that have adapted to the harsh environment. See this wonderful page from Enchanted Learning at . Make an Arctic Concentration Game from this page. SeaWorld has an Arctic Adaptations page with links on more fast facts on lots of animals. Here's another wonderful page of animal links from the State of Alaska, under the heading of Wildlife: . Be sure to do this great body fat experiment in the Science section of the Creative Ideas below.
    C. the people Alaska is full of different cultures, who past and present, have migrated to the wonderous land of Alaska for freedom and adventure. You could do a year's worth of study on just the people in this state's history. I have created a STUDY OUTLINE ON THE PEOPLE OF ALASKA which is set up much like this one. Please check out some or all of the links I have provided. Thank you!
    D.state facts and the history of statehood See this site for a unit study on the state: which is an excellent resource for other information as well. See this page for links regarding facts about Alaska especially Chronological History of Alaska, Quick Facts,, State Symbols for more info, and be sure to look over the list of FAQ's toward the bottom. Here is a transcription of the Treaty of Cession, and a high resolution .pdf file to download of the check written for the purchase of the Alaskan territory, .
II. Iditarod The Challenges of the Iditarod Trail by Joe Runyan . Want to know what it might be like to ride a dog sled? Check out the Virtual Sled Ride at Judy Merritt's site, toward the bottom of the page at: .
Got a question? Here's a page of Frequently Asked Questions about the race of today from Ultimate Iditarod at .
    A. history see Cabela's articles at And from the Anchorage Daily News, see the summarized history of each racing year at
        1. the serum run of 1925 from the Iditarod's official site... . And a short version including the story of Balto, from PBS at .
        2. what "iditarod" means "Many people ask,"What does Iditarod mean?" It is believed that the early Athabascan Indians called their inland hunting ground Haiditarod, "the distant place." Later when gold was discovered in the same area the miners founded the town at the Indians hunting camp, which they spelled Iditarod. In 1910 the Alaska Roads Commission brushed out and marked a trail from Nome through Iditarod and on to Seward, the major seaport in southcentral Alaska. Originally called the Seward Trail, it later became known as the Iditarod Trail". You can read more about this historic trail at the modern race began see Joe Runyon's article Why Alaska Needed the Iditarod at
    B.the rules see . This year in .pdf form. You can click on the link to open the document, but you do not have to print it.
    C.the trail Please read Joe Runyon's article The Challenges of the Iditarod Trail at to get a better understanding of what the teams are up against as they set forth on this adventure. You can then follow each turn of the trail at Click on Anchorage to begin the journey.
III. Dogs PBS: Sled Dogs, An Alaskan Epic at is, of course, an excellent resource. Mushers answer questions about their dogs on this Scholastic site, . Also see . And here's something fun from
    A. why dogs? Now this is an excellent question... Why do you think dogs are used to pull sleds in Alaska? Why aren't other animals used? Have your student(s) write a paragraph explaining their view.
        1. which kind of dog best Several types of dogs are used for racing, and of course, each owner has his or her favorite. Which breed does your mushers use? Here is a personal page, but interesting none the less... See Siberian Husky and Malamute FAQ's. Here's the American Kennel Club's Alaskan Malamute page and Siberian Husky page.
     B. training Here's an article on Exercise and Training from Mush with P.R.I.D.E. at and this article, The Training and Preparation Required for the Iditarod written by musher Jim Gallea is really good, giving a personal, experienced point-of-view... Please note: this site is currently down (mid-Jan. 2004) but I am leaving this link in hopes it will come back up... it was a really great site. Another site to check for info:
     C. feeding
          1. before race Information from P.R.I.D.E.,
          2. during race see New Insights for Feeding the Canine Athlete in the Cabela's 2001 archives by Joe Runyon can be read here, . Ultimate Iditarod's site is back up with this excellent page, .
     D. care
          1. before race P.R.I.D.E.'s Basic Health Care Guidelines can be found at . See Rule #45 of the Official 2004 Rules about the Pre-Race Veterinary Exam.
          2. during race For the musher's responsibilities see Rules #14 through #20 and Rules #45 through #50 of the Official 2005 Rules.
IV. Preparation Don Bower's article The Race Behind the Race at will open your eyes to another aspect of the race. Also, learn about the Iditarod Air Force . [I'm sorry, this link seems not to be working, as of 1/24/2005, but I'm keeping it on the page because I can't imagine that it's gone entirely... I'll keep checking on it! S. ]
     A. physically
     B. mentally
Nothing I have read so far, has definitively explained preparation for these two catagories. My research shows that besides the condition and will of the dogs, these two things will either make or break the race for each team. Each human participant applies their own values. Being able to physically "hold on" through exhaustion, wild weather, loss of body weight, and mentally remain sane through isolation, despair, and exhaustion... this is what makes the race alluring, and the musher who makes it to the finish line, reveared. If it were easy, we'd all be doing it, right!? If you were going to mush a 1049 mile race across Alaska, how would you prepare yourself physically and mentally?
     C. supplies see Rule #5 of the Official 2005 Rules for mandatory items each musher must carry. Also, Joe Runyon has also written an interesting article entitled "What's Inside the Sled Bag?". Here also is a 2004 pre-race article by Jon Little, "Anatomy of a Sled Bag", at and also this article from, .
          1. clothing See Cabela's Gear Articles at this page: and thoughts on this subject.
          2. food Although there are lots of stipulations for food for the dogs, there are no official rules or guidelines for food for the musher. Personal preferences are the norm, but the priorities a racer may want to keep in mind is staying hydrated, high calorie foods for energy and quick fixing meals. Often they will prepare pre-cooked items in boiling bags that they can throw into their trail cooker while warming up their dog's food. Some detailed information and a couple pics by Jim Gallea at .
          3. dog care All the links I had previously here have disappeared from the Net, but I'm on the lookout for more information - please check back - Thank you!
          4. sled repair See Rule #4 of the Official 2005 Rules. Repair and replacement parts are allowed to be taken along on the trail like sled runners, cords, etc. Learn more about this vital piece of equipment with these two articles from Ulitmate Iditarod at . Use this worksheet to test your students on the parts of a sled... .
          5. attaching the dogs to the sled The Anatomy of a Dog Team is covered in this article, by Ultimate Iditarod. Also, use the worksheets provided on this site at Other Helps for quizzing your students.
          6. drop offs at checkpoints See Rule #43 and #44 the Official 2005 Rules.
V. The Race
     A. Learn about... Here's a fun review on everything you've probably already learned up to now: DogSleddling 101 .
          1. Ceremonial start in Anchorage Read the first part of Joe Runyan's article Saturday Morning at the Dog Lot at . You can also check the Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau .
          2. Restart in Wasilla Watch a slideshow presentation of the ceremonial start in Anchorage and the Restart in Wasilla... . If you have never had the chance to be at the start of any dog sled race, you can't imagine the cacophony of dog sounds as the animals get excited about running!

From's FAQ page: Where does the race actually begin--Anchorage or Wasilla?
The answer is both, actually. The race begins the first Saturday of March on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage. However, the first day is just a ceremonial start, and teams run only from Anchorage to Eagle River, 25 miles away. The time from that day has no effect on the final outcome of the race. This ceremonial start is done in order to allow for better publicity and coverage for the mushers and the race, and it also allows each musher to give one lucky "Idita-Rider" a ride in his or her sled at the starting line. Idita-Riders bid in silent auction to ride in the sleds, and the money goes toward funding the race. On the following day, the race is re-started in Wasilla, about 50 miles from Anchorage. This is the official timed start of the race. The reason for moving the teams out of Anchorage for the restart is that the congestion of Anchorage streets coupled with the geographic barrier of the Knik River and Knik Arm of Cook Inlet (part of the Pacific Ocean) make it safest to start in Wasilla. It should be noted that Seward is actually the traditional start of the Iditarod trail and the location where most teams started their runs into the interior during the gold rush. Currently, the Alaska Railroad runs over much of the old Iditarod Trail from Seward to Anchorage, making a Seward start to the race almost impossible.

It should also be noted that changes have needed to be made in the place and time of the Re-start depending on weather conditions in years past.
          3. On the trail Of course all of the Rules concern the trail and the race, but Rules #21 through 37 especially dictate correct Musher's Conduct while running the race.
          4. dangers on the trail Read Joe Runyan's articles The Challenges of the Trail, Wild Encounters on the Iditarod Trail, and The Wind at There are also other articles linked from this page.
          5. The Finish Line in Nome Some history and facts about Nome at Also check out the local news of Nome from the The Nome Nugget, Alaska's Oldest Newspaper.
                 a.the Red Lantern During the days of Alaska sled dog freighting and mail carrying, dog drivers relied on a series of roadhouses between their village destinations. Since these mushers ventured out in all types of weather they decided to use a "flight plan." Word was relayed ahead that a musher and team were on the trail, and a kerosene lamp was lit and hung outside the roadhouse. It not only helped the dog driver find his destination at night, but more importantly, it signified that a team or teams were somewhere out on the trail. The lamp was not extinguished until the musher safely reached his destination. Beginning in 1986, Chevron USA continued the tradition by hanging a "Red Lantern," as it is known today, on the burl arch in Nome. Each year the lantern is lit at the beginning of the race and hung on the finish line, not to be extinguished until the very last musher crosses the finish line. Once the musher crosses the line, (s)he then extinguishes the lantern, signifying the official end of the race. Thus, the last musher in the race receives the "Red Lantern" award."
     B. Your participation as a Musher Check out the musher's biographies at Cabela's Iditarod site or from the Official Iditarod site and choose one or more to follow throughout the race.
          1. Musher's Pre-race Banquet, Thursday, March 3rd, 6:00pm Keep an eye on the home page of the Official Iditarod site for details on this event. For a couple years, it has been broadcast over the Internet. This is the evening that the musher's draw their starting positions, and thank their sponsors.
          2. Ceremonial start in Anchorage on March 5th, 10:00am Check my page How to Watch the Race for details on how to watch the Ceremonial Start in Anchorage.
          3. Restart in Wasilla on March 6th, 2:00pm This is the beginning of the Official timed race. Continue to keep an eye on's official web site for information on special web cams. Click on the General Links or Special Links for more information.
          4. On the trail Follow the trail at . And keep track of the current standings on the following sites: the official site of , , or . Keep them bookmarked because you will be referring to them often. See my Other Helps page for a great idea on how to chart out your musher's progress.
          5. The Finish Line in Nome
          VI. The Banquet The official Banquet will be held in the Rec Center in Nome on Sunday, March 21st at 4:00pm. Rule #58 of the Official 2005 Rules states "All mushers who have crossed the finish line up to two (2) hours before the awards presentation must be present and the winner must have his/her lead dog(s) present for recognition. Any musher crossing the finish line who is able to attend the awards presentation ceremony prior to its beginning, will be included in the awards presentation ceremony in the proper order. All mushers reaching the banquet before its conclusion will be introduced and given the opportunity to appear before the audience.

Conclude your study with a special dinner (or lunch event) and award certificates to each student for participating and ribbons for their musher's placement at the finish, also mentioning any special commendations your students or their mushers may have gotten.

If you are looking for some Fun Food Ideas for your party, check out this page: funfood.html.
          VII. Awards There are many more awards that just 1st Place in the Iditarod. See this listing for for 2003... . Here also is the Prize money distribution for 2003 from Cabela's site, .
          VIII. More and Past Info There is plenty of information on the past couple of years races archived on the Net at Cabela's, , and has more race information from it's General Information link at .


Other Creative Ideas...

Here are just a few ideas, to apply to your correct age group, fitting into the various educational disciplines: (If you have other creative ideas, please let me know by emailing me so they can be shared by adding them to the list.)

Check out Cabela's Education Expedition for some exciting lessons.
Here are some online activities from Scholastic Books at .
Art:Draw, color an Alaskan flag - explain the meaning of the symbols. Draw a graphic of the dogs and label their lines to a sled. Make a model of a sled, possibly using plastic toy dogs and attaching tow lines properly to all parts. Create a picture of the Northern Lights with colored chalk on black paper. On a larger toy dog, make a replica of the harness. Here's a cut-out dog team project. Here's a sled art project using popcicle sticks. Use sugar cubes and ready-made cake icing to make an igloo model. Younger children can stick mini-marshmallows to a disposable bowl with the icing... use part of a toilet paper roll to make an entrance tunnel. Create a Borax Crystal Snowflake . Put on an Iditarod Puppet Show with a bunch of Sock Dudes from Theresa Daily's Dude Dog page at where you'll find other activity sheets and cartoons.
Language Arts: Write a daily journal as a musher. Write a news article on the race or one day in the race. Create persona poetry. Dictate the meaning of the "Red Lantern" while having your students write it. Write a letter of encouragement to your musher if their email address is found... Please do not request or expect a reply as some of the mushers get literally thousands of letters and emails from around the world, but still, they need to hear from you. Some more great writing assignment ideas at like creating a comic strip, writing a play as the dogs in the dog yard, etc. Dictate to your students, or have them memorize the classic poem, The Cremation of Sam McGee. Color a totem pole and create a story to go with it. Spelling/Vocabulary - see list at bottom of page and this page on the Yukon Quest site. And here are some more words:
Spelling/Vocabulary words:racemushersled
AnchorageganglineAurora Borealisgee
Aleutian Islandsswingdoghibernatecompetition
Math:Calculate the distance between checkpoints. (See the Daily Statistic sheets located on my Other Helps page.) Calculate how many pounds of dog food need to be dropped at each checkpoint. Figure the amount of weight of the items on a mushers sled. Track your mushers progress each day of the race. See this PBS Math Concepts Lesson based on the Iditarod if you need help or inspiration. Another math page can be found at with good information on the race, and simple multiplication for 2nd to 4th grade. NEW! for my site last year... Complete Probability Lesson for determining the race winner.
Science:Further research on the effects to the human body if not prepared properly for the environment of Alaska. Learn about polar bears and make a blubber mitten with the body fat experiment to understand how fat insulates the body. Chart the temperature in Anchorage and Nome throughout the race and/or the weather conditions all along the trail according to news reports. Check out Joan's Science Lessons at which mostly have to do with Weather.
Other Possible Skills:
Timelines - the history of the Iditarod, or your mushers journey
Mapping - various skills, "find your way"
Sewing - Sew a doggie bootie - Great page with pattern!
Problem Solving - see this excellent question sheet on the Yukon Quest site.
Life Applications - Libby Riddles tells in her book of having to sleep and change clothes in her sled bag on the sled during a storm. I had my boys change from their pj's into their day clothes while in a zipped up sleeping bag - they had fun. And next time we're up in the snow, I'm taking a campstove and a big pot to let them see how much snow it takes to get a pot of water as the mushers need to do for feeding their dogs warm meals, and how much work it is.
Fun Game - Here's an Iditarod game to print out and play (and learn)! Have fun! .
Here's another something fun from , an on-line puzzle of a Husky!
Put your spelling words into a word puzzel using Puzzlemaker- an excellent tool for making various puzzels with words you submit.

Special Iditarod Momento

A special momento for your unit study notebook:
Students can receive a special cancel of the Iditarod race if you mail a #10 self addressed, stamped envelope to:
     BOX 9998
     NOME, AK 99762-9998

This must be received in Nome within 30 days of the start of the race. The cancel is large and features a dogsled with rider, driver, and team of dogs. Proper postage is needed. Be sure to put your self-addressed stamped envelope inside a larger envelope that you mail to Nome.


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