Monday, January 28, 2008

Rev up Fur Rondy

I have been getting many inquiries from friends and family regarding an Alaskan event institution. The Fur Rendezvous festival of events, and subsequent Ceremonial Start to the Iditarod Sled Dog Race has been an integral part of winter survival in Anchorage, with thousands of folks attending each year. "Fur Rondy", as it is affectionately known, has gone on since the mid 1930's, when Vern Johnson and a bunch of buddies decided to break up the winter doldrums by celebrating the winter's catch of furs. (When trappers stocked up enough fur, they brought them into Anchorage to sell to the buyers). Vern and his friends convinced the youth of Anchorage to participate in sporting events and a sled dog race. In a town of only 3,000 people in 1935, Johnson nevertheless was thrilled by attendance at the skiing, hockey, basketball, boxing and children's sled dog race, as nearly the entire town turned out to watch or participate.

Since then, "Rondy" has become an icon of fun for locals and visitors alike. With something for everyone, the 10 day festival this year features reindeer races (apparently I am signed up to Run With the Reindeer-we'll see about that), snowshoe softball, outhouse races, a fur buying auction, and an outdoor winter carnival with all the rides you'd expect at the State Fair. Ever ride the swings in a snowsuit at 10 degrees? Quite an experience, I assure you.

While many people try to come to Alaska during the summer, it is becoming a popular winter destination as well, and with events such as the Rendezvous, it is no wonder. There probably is no other event that will showcase the spirit and sport of Alaska. Fur Rondy brings folks from the Bush communities to participate in the Multi-Tribal Gathering at our Egan Convention Center, where Native life is brought to the forefront with dancing, food, music, and incredible handwork and crafts. The place to be if one is looking for Native Alaskan art.

It is always a bit confusing, however, to explain that the Iditarod is not an official part of Fur Rendezvous, but as it is always scheduled to start on the last weekend of the festival, most assume it is the cous de grace of the whole thing. Nobody really cares, except perhaps festival organizers who get tired of explaining the difference. Territory is not merely geographical in Alaska, apparently.

For those who have been asking which is better, Fur Rondy or the Iditarod, I say, do both. Attend the last week of Rondy, run the Frostbite Footrace or attend the Miner's and Trapper's ball in your Carharts, then plan to be downtown on March 1 for the Ceremonial Start to the Last Great Race and watch 1,000 dogs take off for Nome.

Go to for more Rondy events and links to everything else you need to know when you come up and visit us.

The fur always flies during February, just be sure you know who it is attached to!

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