The Kenai Peninsula College Main Entrance on Aug. 18, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

The Kenai Peninsula College Main Entrance on Aug. 18, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Inside the Iditarod

Showcase to feature stories from champion, event photographer

The next Kenai Peninsula College Showcase, set for Thursday, Dec. 7 at 6 p.m., will center on the Iditarod, featuring champion Libby Riddles, who in 1985 became the first woman to win the race, and photographer Jeff Schultz, who for nearly 40 years was the official photographer of the race.

Titled “Breaking Trail: Reflections on the Iditarod,” Riddles said Monday that she and Schultz have very deep but “entirely different perspectives” on the Iditarod through their different roles in relation to it. She said they both will share stories about their experiences, with the intention of instilling a “deeper knowledge” of what the race is like.

Schultz said Monday that because he photographed the Iditarod for so many years, he can offer an account of not only his own work traveling the trail and documenting the race, but also present a view of how things have changed over time.

After so many years of doing that work, Schultz said he burnt out and retired, but he’s still keeping a passion for the Iditarod and its participants alive through “Faces of the Iditarod,” a series of portraits of more than 1,000 Iditarod humans and canines. Each photo is accompanied by information about its subject in their own words — or, their owners’ for the dogs.

“The Iditarod isn’t a race, it’s an event,” Schultz said. “I don’t care who wins, most people don’t.”

Riddles, similarly, said that the Iditarod represents a certain element of Alaska. The people who learn to navigate it and manage a team of sled dogs are “tapped in” to a history of the land and a culture of dog mushers.

The race, she said, is about an athlete seeing how good they are, getting inside the minds of their dogs and battling the cold.

“It’s an amazing experience that most people can’t really imagine,” she said.

Riddles says she often speaks about her Iditarod experience to tourists from cruise ships, and she’s excited that she won’t have to cover the surface level basics of the race and dog mushing to the local crowd.

To Schultz, the race is a reunion for a specific community and also a microcosm for everything Alaska has to offer. He said — especially from his perspective as a photographer — the athletes contend with more than just snowy trails, they see a lot of what the state has to offer.

“It’s incredible watching these animals,” he said. “The tiny dog team in the giant landscape — that’s my signature photograph.”

Both Riddles and Schultz said they’ll be bringing their books for sale at the event. Schultz will also be providing a brief tutorial for taking better photos with smartphones.

“Everybody and their brother has a camera now, but people are still taking bad pictures,” he said. “I just want to make better photographers.”

“Breaking Trail: Reflections on the Iditarod” will start at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 7, in the Ward Building — not in the McLane Commons like other installments of the KPC Showcase.

For more information, find “Kenai Peninsula College Showcase” on Facebook.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

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