Equipped with boots and goggles, this team is one of 85 in the annual Iditarod sled dog race, which covers a course of 1,000 miles between two towns in Alaska. (Nathaniel Wilder/Reuters)

Alaska’s annual 1,000-mile dog race returned to its traditional starting point this week despite another unusually warm winter.

The Iditarod Trail International Sled Dog Race was moved to Fairbanks last year because of poor conditions along the Alaskan Range. This year, 85 mushers set off Sunday from Willow, the traditional start just north of Anchorage, even though the area has received far less than its usual snowfall. But race organizers were optimistic.

“We have much better snow conditions in the Alaska Range and beyond, and we expect to have a good race trail for this year’s competitors,” race director Mark Nordham said in a statement.

Mushers and their dogs race over mountains, through forests and over a river to Nome, on the state’s western coast. The race takes about nine days.

Seven former Iditarod champions are racing in this year’s event. Dallas Seavey, who has won three of the past four races, said there are “a lot of really good teams; there’s a lot of people who could win.”

The Iditarod began in 1973 to preserve the culture of sled dogs, teams of which had used the route since the early 20th century to deliver mail and supplies to remote Alaskan villages.

— Staff and wire reports