Image used under Flickr Creative Commons license from Mike Jurvud.
Maybe you thought visiting Anchorage in the off-season was only for the hardcore dog-mushing types? Well, guess again. If you like festivals – especially those that offer a plethora of fun activities for every taste – then the annual Anchorage Fur Rendezvous Festival is just the one for you. It’s easy to get to from the Westmark Anchorage Hotel, giving you the perfect home base for the 10-day Fur Rondy fest and its special events (think family skating, talent competitions, scavenger hunts and, of course, the outhouse races. Yep, you read that right).
Fur Rondy History
The festival started more than 80 years ago, during a time when Anchorage winter entertainment was limited to finding enough to eat and not freezing to death. Residents couldn’t even look forward to reading mail. Festival founder Vern Johnson thought the 3,000 residents of Anchorage needed a way to blow off steam during the long winter, so in 1935 he developed a three-day sports tourney that eventually became the festival we know today.
The sports tournament maximized on an already-present festival atmosphere, coinciding with when miners and trappers would meet at Anchorage’s Fourth Avenue to sell their furs. Just as the festival does now, the first Anchorage Fur Rendezvous included events for everyone. Early events included boxing, skiing, hockey and a sled dog race for children. The festival has grown considerably – as has the city, now with a population of about 300,000. Visitors from all around the world will converge on Anchorage to participate in the fun, which still includes traditional events related to mining and trapping (in addition to the racing outhouses on skis).
To get a sense of the atmosphere you can expect, read about the 2015 Fur Rondy here.
Fur Rondy Events
The Anchorage Fur Rondy, planned for Feb. 26 to March 6 in 2016, is one venue where out-of-state visitors have a chance to see both a version of the traditional Alaska Native blanket toss and an iconic Alaska sled dog race. The internationally recognized, three-day World Champion Sled Dog Races are a cornerstone event of the festival. The races challenge the fastest snowbound canines in three sprints of 25 miles each for a total of 75 miles, some of it through downtown Anchorage, giving spectators a front-row seat to the action.
During the blanket toss, a group of people use stretched walrus skins to bounce a person into the air. The event has been part of the festival since 1950 and is a traditional way Native Alaskans would see long distances during a hunt. At the Fur Rondy, you’ve got the chance to try it yourself (or send one of your friends flying up to 20 feet vertically).
If you’d rather keep your feet firmly on the ground, don’t worry: There are plenty of other activities to try. Pack your favorite costume and sign up for the Frostbite Footrace or Costume Fun Run. If speed isn’t your forte, enter the New Belgium Slow Ride Bike Race and try to be the slowest finisher on your fat tire. Or let the caribou do the racing instead during the Running of the Reindeer. You can vote on your favorite ice sculpture, then catch Rondy on Ice, a performance by the Alaska Figure Skating Club. Get in on the action yourself during the family skate, then close out the day with a spectacular fireworks show. When you’re ready to pack it in, bring home a special souvenir from the Native Arts market.
That’s just a sampling of things to do at the Fur Rondy – what better way to enjoy an Alaska winter than this traditional fest? When you’re ready for a visit, check out the annual Anchorage Fur Rondy schedule to get in on the fun!