Who doesn’t love a carnival? Rides, food, contests of wit and strength, and in this case, fur hats, mittens, and dozens of howling sled dogs, with with a few reindeer thrown in for good measure. Step right up, folks.
Entering its 75th year of entertaining winter-weary Alaskans, Fur Rendezvous is set to begin yet another stellar “beginning to the end of winter” party February 27th through March 3rd. It’s all there; the giant ferris wheel from which panoramic views of snowy peaks abound, funnel cakes, reindeer sausage, and even a Grand Parade. Thank Vern Johnson for your good fortune.
Johnson, an early pioneer of the Anchorage area, got together with a few buddies in the 1930’s and decided to break the winter doldrums (of which there were many) by gathering up enough spirited youth together to play basketball, hockey, and even arranged for boys to race their dogs around downtown. The event caught on, and soon Johnson and company decided that sports were not enough; why not turn it into a bona fide party?
Soon people began flocking to Anchorage every February to try and shake off the cling of darkness and celebrate the coming light. Fur traders took advantage of the crowds to do some trading, leading the Fur Auction towards highlight status of the week’s events.
“Rondy”, as the event has come to be nicknamed, had its share of tough years. Debt saddled from less than successful scheduling and low attendance was finally retired in 2008 and the festival is hot to enter 2009. Look for events that might not be at your usual street carnival: Running of the Reindeer, Outhouse Races, Dog Weight Pull, and a Miner’s and Trapper’s Ball, at which there is enough Carhartt-wear sported to fill a warehouse.
Our kids love Rondy. Event organizers want families to attend and participate together, so they welcome children at almost every contest, from the Frostbite Footrace to the Family Skate Nights and the Multi Tribal Gathering. My boys love the Parade the most, however. The first year we attended we were unprepared for the cold that crept into our hands, faces, and toes as we waited for the fire trucks and military bands to appear, but once things got going, they found jumping after candy and running into the route to look for the next entry kept them plenty warm. That and a stop at the Reindeer trailer to pet the furry critters and let the unglates’ warm breath heat their chilly palms.
Nowhere else have I experienced “true Alaska”, unpretentious and unfettered. Unlike the staged shows during the summer months that have
tourists scrambling for their video cameras, Fur Rondy is the real deal. People wear their own bobcat hats and beaver mittens; Native Alaskan women and children dress in traditional kuspuks (parkas) that are for everyday wear, not for impressing a tour bus. I love to watch Rondy unfold with the color and character that is our state.
Which brings up the point that this is a very good time to visit Alaska. You won’t see better examples of what Alaska is, and was always meant to be. Fur Rondy ends with the arrival of the Ceremonial Start to the famous Iditarod Sled Dog race, the 1,100 mile trek to Nome via dogsled. Beat the summer travel rates, the bugs, and the crowds. Choose the “beginning to the end of winter”, and begin your relationship with the 49th state. Visit the Fur Rendezvous Web site at http://www.furrondy.net
for all the information you and our family need to join in a fabulous wintertime festival.