PhotographerJeff Schultzhas always loved adventure.In 1978, he moved from California’s Bay Area to Alaska with dreams of log cabins and self-sufficient living. Since then, he has traveled and photographed all over the state, seeking thrills and great images.
And there’s no Alaskan event more thrilling than the Annual Iditarod Race, which pits dog sled racers, known as “mushers,” and teams of 16 sled dogs against each other in a slog across more than 1,100 frozen miles of Alaskan wilderness.
Schultz began photographing the event in 1981 and become the Iditarod’s official photographer in 1982. He has taken over 50,000 images of every musher, checkpoint, and weather condition imaginable. Next year will be Schultz’s 35th time covering the event, and he is releasing a book, titled “Chasing Dogs: My Adventures As The Official Photographer Of Alaska’s Iditarod,” which includes many of his race photos, as well as stories from the trail.
We asked him to share with us some photos and insight into the legendary race. More can be seen at his extensive photo website.
Jeff Schultz has been photographing the Iditarod since 1981. He had moved to Alaska three years earlier 'seeking adventure,' he tells Business Insider.
Schultz first began shooting the race after he took the portrait of Joe Redington Sr., known as the 'Father of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race,' who helped found the first Iditarod in 1967.
At first, Schultz knew very little about the Iditarod. 'I had no idea where the trail really was and how the mushers navigated the trail or how the trail was put in,' he says.
The first year, Schultz photographed the race spending his own money, which would only pay for enough gas to shoot half of the course. Later, he donated the photographs to the 'Iditarod Annual,' a yearly publication chronicling the race. The Iditarod Committee liked his work, and asked him to be one of their official photographers. 'I said yes, and we've been working on that same deal since,' he explained.
The race actually uses two separate courses, both over 1,100 miles, which alternate every year. A ceremonial start occurs in Anchorage, with an official start happening later, in the town of Willow. There is usually over 50 mushers, each with teams of 16 sled dogs.
The race usually takes nine to fifteen days, with 26 to 27 checkpoints. Those not using sled dogs for travel usually take aeroplanes.
The race happens in early March, and temperatures can dip as far as −100 °F, along with windchill and blizzards. To stay warm, Schultz dresses in layers of synthetic material and makes sure to wear really good boots. 'I wear a fur hat if it's really cold,' he told Business Insider.
He says in the old days, his cameras used to be affected by the very coldest days and nights. Nowadays, though, with new camera technology, 'as long as my batteries are warm, the cameras work.'
Schultz says that it is a bit difficult to keep a fresh eye on the event, since he has photographed it so many times. But, he explains, he stays motivated by all of the positive feedback he continues to get about the images he shoots. 'That, along with always looking and hoping for that once-in-a-lifetime image,' he says.
Schultz himself has never entered a dog race, but he has mushed dogs. 'It's a really special pleasure to be running dogs through the wilderness or forest and hear nothing but the sound of the dog's breath,' he adds.
Amazingly, no mushers have ever died on the race, though there have been many close calls. Schultz himself was involved in a near death plane crash in 1992, a story which is detailed in his new book.
The same cannot be said for sled dogs. No official numbers are kept, but the Anchorage Daily News puts the number at around 143 dogs.
Still, Schultz says that all the mushers he knows and has observed treat their dogs with 'unbelievable care, feeding, and cleanliness.' 'They have been bred to do what they do, run long distances, and they do it very well,' Schultz adds.
Schultz says he is drawn to the Iditarod, and Alaska in general, because of the feeling of adventure and being alive it brings him. He tells Business Insider that he loves 'living close to nature in environments that can kill me if I'm not careful.'
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