Throngs crowding a downtown street covered with trucked-in snow cheered Saturday as 49 mushers and hundreds of dogs charged off on the first leg of the 1,168-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race from Anchorage to Nome.

The 17th annual race over the Alaska Range, across desolate stretches and along the storm-raked coast began in clear, windy weather at 9 a.m., with veteran musher Jerry Austin of St. Michael first out of the chute.Susan Butcher, aiming for her fourth consecutive win and the $50,000 winner's share of the $250,000 purse, was 19th to leave in the succession of departures spaced two minutes apart. Rival Rick Swen-son of Two Rivers, the only person to win the race four times, was No. 22.