The 2011 Iditarod is allowing GPS trackers for the first time since it began in 1973. Although race organizers have been tracking the sleds via satellite for years, it was ruled illegal for the participants (known as mushers) to use personal handheld GPS units.
While the use of GPS has modernized the 1150 mile dogsled race affectionately named the 'Last Great Race on Earth', the choice was not universally popular. Mushers, who agree with the inclusion of personal GPS devices, point out the importance of maintaining a steady pace. If the speed is too fast or too inconsistent, the injury rate for the dogs increases. Without a GPS, it is easy to misjudge speed. Another argument for tracking devices is the case of John Baker. Considered a contender for the title in 2010, Baker second guessed himself outside of the town of Cripple, losing hours and a chance at a win. If Baker was able to use a GPS, he would have realized he was not lost but actually on the correct path.
However, despite the benefits of GPS technology, there are people who stand strongly against the use of handheld devices. Many mushers believe the challenge of finishing the race with only trail markers and dogs is what makes the Iditarod enticing. As Lance Mackey, a four-time defending Iditarod champion, said, "I think it's kind of funny that all of a sudden they need a GPS to figure out how fast they're going and what their dogs are capable of doing. What have they been doing this whole time?"
Despite the controversy, this year's race started on March 5 in Anchorage, Alaska with a mix of traditional and GPS equipped mushers. The race is expected to conclude on March 15 in Nome.