It’s true, Alaskans do love winter. A good thing, too, since winter around here lasts anywhere from seven to nine months. Oh, we embrace summertime with the enthusiasm of a long lost love, to be sure, but there’s something about this frosty, sparkling-white season that brings out the best in 49th state residents. Like Fur Rendezvous, one of the best winter carnivals in the world and a perfect introduction to life in Alaska for those who have always wondered “What do they do up there all winter?” It’s also one of the most unique family vacations you’ll ever take, and something kids and parents will talk about for a long, long time. Once they thaw out, of course. Kidding. Sort of.
Fur Rendezvous is a 77 year-old tradition in Anchorage, running for a full 10 days the last part of February. While everyone has their own opinion of what “Fur Rondy” is and is not, I prefer to maintain an impression of “seasonal relief”. After all, we’ve passed the December holidays, snow is still falling, and, frankly, we’re sorta tired of the color wheel consisting of various shades of gray and beige. We still love our activities, but we’re a little weary of the view. BAM! Rondy arrives, and it’s all downhill from here to Breakup, then Spring, then Summer, and we’re ready to do it all over again come Fall.
I believe that’s what Fur Rendezvous founder Vern Johnson thought in 1933 when he gathered a bunch of his pals and said “Hey, dudes, let’s shake up this joint and have a party!” (I’m sure he said it just like that). Since Anchorage was a city of perhaps 3,000 at that time, stretching from the Park Strip to the south and Ship Creek to the north, folks were pretty anxious to see what Vern and the Boys had in mind, and participated willingly in the bonfire, dog races, baseball game, and hockey tournament. Things grew up from there, and today’s Fur Rondy fills the city from stem to stern with activities, art, and opportunities to show off how we do winter in these here parts. AK Fam loves Fur Rondy; it’s energetic and fun and feels homey enough that we wander the streets waving at folks we know and smiling at those we don’t. Hometown love flows from everywhere, and visitors are made to feel most welcome. Below are a few hot tips from Alaska’s own; people who know Rondy and have passed the torch to us. Come on up, we’ll leave the lantern burning for you!
DATES: Fur Rendezvous 2012 is scheduled for February 24-March 4. Find a daily schedule of events, ticket information, and a fabulous history of the festival HERE. This website, run by Fur Rendezvous the organization, is always moving and changing, so it’s your best resource for up-to-date info. A heads up: Fur Rondy is not affiliated with the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, which kicks off a Ceremonial Start on Saturday, March 3 on 4th Avenue in downtown Anchorage. It’s separate, but folded into the party as yet another opportunity to whoop and holler for Alaska’s finest critter to ever pull a sled.
GETTING HERE: Alaska Airlines always kicks in some deals around Fur Rendezvous, and this year is offering a 7% discount for bookings made around Rondy dates. Check their website for the rules, regs, and such. The fun part about flying Alaska is their connection to Iditarod teams and support staff/volunteers, so you never know who you’ll be sitting next to on the flight. Fur Rondy will have a FREE shuttle to the festivities from many locations in the greater Anchorage/Midtown area, and a shuttle schedule is available HERE. Utilize it; parking stinks downtown. Alaskans, are you listening??
LODGING: Hoo-boy, lodging can be tough around Rondy and Iditarod time, but with careful planning and a lot of persistance, one can secure a fabulous spot close to the action. For families who want to save a few dollars, the Anchorage Grand Hotel is located right smack across the street from the carnival rides and above the Alaska Railroad depot. Noisy? Sure, but worth it if you want to walk to everything. Kitchenettes and lots of room are perfect for families. If you want a more cozy, intimate experience, head west to the Copper Whale Inn on L street, overlooking Cook Inlet. Manager Glenn loves families, and can set you up with everything you need. He also provides a European-style continental breakfast and great coffee every morning, to fuel you up for a day of Rondy-ing.
ACTIVITIES: You’ve done the rides (kids haven’t lived until they’ve ridden the Gravitron in snow pants), checked out the snow sculptures, watched the Grand Parade and the Running of the Reindeer, but you still want more. Try the Alaska Railroad’s Aurora Winter Train to Talkeetna on Saturday/Sunday, overnighting at our friend Trisha Costello’s Talkeetna Roadhouse, or, take the Thursday Hurricane Train and see some of our famous Alaskan winterscape (who knows, Denali might even put in an appearance for you). Want to stay close to town? Head to the Anchorage Museum for an up-close look at our city’s past, present, and future, connecting the dots for kids, or go ice skating on Westchester Lagoon under a full moon. Hit our ski slopes, too, at either Arctic Valley (for intermediates and above; but they do have an awesome Tube Park), or Hilltop Ski Area.
EATING: Everybody goes to the Glacier Brewhouse during Rondy (hint: it’s THE place to be for the parade, get there by 10:30 a.m. and secure a spot by the window with us), but it’s charged with that winter energy that we love. Try the Salmon BLT, calamari, and peanut butter pie. Kids will love the Children’s Menu and activity pages, and adults enjoy the craft ales. Don’t discount our favorite breakfast spot, Snow City Cafe, for even though lines are long, a call ahead to get on the List will save you time waiting. But even if you have to wait, play games, color, and enjoy their excellent coffee. Everyone’s happy at Snow City, and why not? They win awards every year for their service and food.
I’m ready to Rondy, how ’bout you? Have questions about Fur Rendezvous and any of the ancillary events? Do email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll see what we can do to help. Feel the winter love in Alaska!