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As the Iditarod heads to its namesake checkpoint, the detour to Flat has been eliminated

Seward musher Travis Beals mushes along the upper Kuskokwim River at sunset on his way into the McGrath checkpoint during the Iditarod Sled Dog Race on Tuesday. (Zachariah Hughes/for ADN)

McGRATH — The front pack of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race made it to Ophir and beyond Wednesday as teams neared the halfway point of the race.

Their next destination is the remote Iditarod checkpoint. From there they will return to Ophir, with no detour to the abandoned mining town of Flat.

Race officials on Wednesday eliminated the 20-mile loop that would have taken the Iditarod to new territory. Deep snow in the area slowed trail breakers, whose services can be better used elsewhere, officials decided.

“Eyebrow-deep snow with no base,” race marshal Mark Nordman said of the conditions. “Just a lotta snow.”

Rookie musher Susannah Tuminelli of Willow was fine with the change. She arrived in McGrath at 9 a.m. relieved to have the glare ice of the Dalzell Gorge behind her but braced to experience it all over again in a couple of days as the race reverses course.

“All I heard was that there was some super deep snow and they couldn’t put a trail in,” she said. “I can’t say I’m really that upset about it, to be honest, ‘cause it sounds like they can use those resources to go work on some stuff in the Gorge, I’m hoping.

“It’s gonna be crazy no matter what.”

Nordman said it would be more beneficial for the race to use its resources repairing other stretches of the trail in preparation for mushers making their return trip to Deshka Landing. For the first time in 49 years, the Iditarod is a round-trip affair, meaning teams will retrace their route on trail that’s already been traveled over by dozens of sleds and hundreds of dogs.

“(We’d) rather have quality, not quantity,” Nordman said.

Iditarod, the old mining town that is the trail’s namesake, is now the turnaround point. It’s 416 miles into the race, which is now 832 miles long with the trail change.

Daily News contributor Zachariah Hughes reported from McGrath and sports editor Beth Bragg reported from Anchorage.

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