As mushers prepare for this year's Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, a new Traverse Alaska tour will take guests behind the scenes for eight days leading up to the event's official start.

Traverse Alaska partnered with Squid Acres Kennel to create the 2019 Intimate Iditarod Experience, a six-person outing that features visits to two race-training facilities, discussions with mushers Paige Drobny and Cody Strathe, dog-mushing adventures, seats at Squid Acres' table at the Iditarod Mushers Banquet and VIP access to both the race's ceremonial start in Anchorage and its official start in Willow.

After meeting the dogs and spending a week with the Squid Acres team, guests will stand behind the starting line as Drobny takes off for this year's race to Nome.

"This is the real thing," said Mollie Foster, who co-owns Traverse Alaska with her husband, Joe Meyer. "Paige is getting ready for this race, and guests get to watch it and be a part of it and ask questions.

"By the time the Iditarod starts, they've basically been in dog-mushing school all week," Foster said. "They'll understand what goes into the race preparations, see how Cody builds the sleds and learn what different mushers do to get ready for the 1,000-mile journey."

Tours start with two nights in Fairbanks, where guests explore operations at Squid Acres' north kennel. They'll meet the dogs and tour the shop where Strathe builds equipment, before attending the 2019 World Ice Art Championships.

From there, guests travel south for two nights at Tonglen Lake Lodge. Squid Acres representatives will lead presentations at the bed-and-breakfast that's located seven miles from the entrance to Denali National Park.

Participants will also take a dog-sledding tour from the team's south kennel in nearby Cantwell.

"At this point, folks will have met the dogs up north and seen Squid Acres' slideshows," Foster said. "Now, they'll learn to run their own dog team."

Denali outings

The Tonglen Lake Lodge stay includes meals prepared by a private chef plus opportunities to ski, snowshoe or hike in Denali. The property's remote location makes it ideal for northern lights viewing, as well. Guests can walk out on the frozen lake or watch from the lodge deck. Foster, who has a background in photography instruction, shares tips on capturing the natural light display.

After a lunch stop in Talkeetna, the tour continues to Anchorage and the annual banquet where mushers draw their bib numbers. Guests will visit the Alaska Native Heritage Center and experience the monthly First Friday Art Walk before attending the ceremonial Iditarod start, which centers on a parade through downtown Anchorage.

On the final day, participants travel north to Willow for the official race start.

"The six folks on this tour will get to intimately know a dog team, run a dog team and then cheer for that same dog team as it runs," Foster said. "It's an eight-day trip, but then guests will spend the next eight days or so glued to the computer screen, watching how the teams are performing.

"It's a thousand-mile race that goes through the Alaska Range, and so much can happen with the tough terrain, temperatures and weather. It's always a really fun event to follow."

Traverse Alaska's Intimate Iditarod Experience ($6,625 per person, double occupancy) takes place from Feb. 24 to March 3. Rates include accommodations, scheduled activities, transportation and select meals.

The company also partners with Tonglen Lake Lodge to provide custom Denali-region trips throughout the winter.

Details are at www.traversealaska.com.

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