Mushers and dog sled teams arrived from all over the world to participate in the first leg of Alaska's gruelling Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, starting an almost 1,000mile journey through the state's bitterly cold wilderness. The race, which is now in its 44th year, commemorates a 1925 rescue mission that delivered diphtheria serum by sled-dog relay to the western coastal community of Nome on the Bering Sea. Sled dogs have always been of great importance to daily life in the villages throughout Alaska and are considered a great part of Alaskan history.

The 2016 Iditarod features 85 mushers and teams each made up of 16 dogs, who set off on staggered starts from the town of Willow, an hour's drive north-west of Anchorage, where a ceremonial start was staged on 5 March. The winner is likely to cross the finish line eight to 10 days later.

Iditarod
Martin Koenig's team gets tangled up after leaving the start chute at the restart of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Willow, AlaskaNathaniel Wilder/ Reuters
Iditarod
Musher Aliy Zirkle waits with her lead dogs at the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race to begin their near 1,000-mile (1,600-km) journey through Alaska’s wilderness Nathaniel Wilder/ Reuters
Iditarod
Anna Berington's dogs wait at the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race to begin their near 1,000-mile (1,600-km) journey from AnchorageNathaniel Wilder/ Reuters

The test of extreme endurance covers 975miles this year and features desolate stretches of up to 85miles between checkpoints and unpredictable wind gusts as the trail hits the Bering coast. Last year temperatures along the route plunged to -51 Celsius.

The winner will take home a cash prize of $50,400 (£35,447) and a new pickup truck. Other top finishers will share in a total cash prize of $750,000. The sled dogs, ranging from three to eight years old, are required to take a 24-hour rest, plus two separate eight-hour stops during the race.

Iditarod
Champion musher Martin Buser's son, Rohn, is seen with his dad's team before the restart of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Willow, AlaskaNathaniel Wilder/ Reuters
Iditarod
Travis Beals' team waits in the truck before the restart of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Willow, AlaskaNathaniel Wilder/ Reuters
Iditarod
Cody Strathe's team leaves the restart of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Willow, AlaskaNathaniel Wilder/ Reuters
Iditarod
Musher Justin Savidis' dogs wait in the truck before the restart of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Willow, AlaskaNathaniel Wilder/ Reuters
Iditarod
A musher handler with Alan Eischens' team embraces one of Eischen's dogs just before the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog RaceNathaniel Wilder/ Reuters
Iditarod
Bob Huston, a sponsor for Aliy Zirkle's team, waits with Zirkle's dogs just before the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog RaceNathaniel Wilder/ Reuters
Iditarod
A team heads out at the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog RaceNathaniel Wilder/ Reuters
Iditarod
Alaskan musher DeeDee Jonrowe and Senator Lisa Murkowski look toward the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Nathaniel Wilder/ Reuters
Iditarod
Spectators line 4th Avenue at the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race to begin the near 1,000-mile (1,600-km) journeyNathaniel Wilder/ Reuters
Iditarod
A team heads out at the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race to begin their near 1,000-mile (1,600-km) journey through Alaska’s wilderness Nathaniel Wilder/ Reuters
Iditarod
Mitch Seavey's team leaves the start chute at the restart of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Willow, AlaskaNathaniel Wilder/ Reuters
Iditarod
DeeDee Jonrowe and her team leave the start chute at the restart of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Willow, AlaskaNathaniel Wilder/ Reuters
Iditarod
Kristin Bacon's team races down the chute at the restart of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Willow, AlaskaNathaniel Wilder/ Reuters
Iditarod
Rookie Larry Daugherty's team leaves the start chute at the restart of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Willow, AlaskaNathaniel Wilder/ Reuters
Iditarod
Musher Monica Zappa checks her dogs in with officials before the restart of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Willow, AlaskaNathaniel Wilder/ Reuters
Iditarod
Rob Cooke's team leaves the start chute at the restart of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Willow, AlaskaNathaniel Wilder/ Reuters