Fur Rondy 2018 kicks off in Downtown Anchorage

Wednesday, February 21, 2018 - 11:16
  • Participants take place in a blanket toss at the Fur Rendezvous in Downtown Anchorage. The blanket toss mimics an ancient Alaska Native whaling tradition where a walrus skin is used, and everyone has a turn to either jump or grip the skin’s edge while tossing others. The 12-day annual festival began as a three-day event arranged to coincide with the return of miners and trappers loaded down with the profits of a winter’s worth of work. The 83rd event kicks off this weekend. (Courtesy photo)

Since 1935, the Fur Rendezvous winter festival has been an important part of Anchorage’s history. This year the festival takes place Feb. 23 to March 4 in Downtown Anchorage.

Known locally as Fur Rondy, the event has been going strong for more than 80 years. It started as a three-day sporting event arranged to coincide with the return of miners and trappers loaded down with the profits of a winter’s worth of work. The original event featured skiing, hockey, basketball, boxing and a children’s sled dog race down Fourth Avenue.

“In its 83rd year, it has grown from a local event to a world-renowned winter festival that attracts visitors from around our state and the world,” said Fur Rendezvous Board of Directors president Beth Helgeson, in the Official Rondy Guide. “With more than 35 partnerships with non-profit organizations, it is a festival put on by Alaskans for Alaskans.”

Although numerous events have been added to the festival over the years, many of the original events have endured.

The Official Rondy Fur Auction, presented by the Alaska Trappers Association, has been an essential event from the beginning, when the festival focused on the economic importance of the Alaska fur trade. One activity, which started in 1950, is the blanket toss. It mimics an ancient Alaska Native whaling tradition; a walrus skin is used, and everyone can have a turn to either jump or grip the skins edge while tossing others. Starting in 1946, the World Championship Sled Dog Races sent mushing teams racing the same 25-mile route over three days for a total of 75 miles.

“We see more than 30,000 people attending the numerous scheduled events during this 12-day festival,” said John McCleary, Fur Rendezvous executive director. “Last year we were able to stream the Open World Championship Sled Dog Race to Facebook Live, and for the first time we had viewers connect from Switzerland and Norway as the event took place.”

With the success of last year’s Facebook feed, all six points of the race are scheduled to be covered again with the hope of the younger generation volunteering to man these stations, McCleary said.

“Many of the events are aimed to connect families to each other, while some newer events have been created in expectation of linking the younger generations with the significance of this festival,” McCleary said. “New events added this year still coincide with the broad history of Alaska and also celebrate the multi-cultural diversity of the city.”

On March 3, the Ida’Ina Multi-Cultural gathering features performances of different Native groups of Alaska and will be hosted at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center.

Another new event titled “Minors and Nappers,” presented by Anchorage Museum, gives even the youngest a sensory learning experience of what it was like to be a miner or a trapper years ago, Helgeson said.

Some of this year’s other events include:

• The Alaskan Trapper’s Association Fur Auction, Feb. 24 and March 3

• The Big Fat Ride - the entire fat-tire biking community has been invited to participate and celebrate fat-tire biking in the Last Frontier with more than 1000 riders expected - Feb. 24

• The Blanket Toss, Feb. 24 and March 2

• The Rondy Grand Parade, Feb. 24

• The Pioneer Pancake Feed, Feb. 24 and 25

• The 5K Frostbite Footrace and 2.5K Fun Run, Feb. 24

• Running of the Reindeer, March 3

• Freez-n-Fizz Ice Cream eating/root beer chugging contest, Feb. 24

• The Outhouse Races, Feb. 24

• Rondy on ice, Feb. 23 to 25

• The World Championship Sled Dog Races, Feb. 23 to 25

• Fireworks Extravaganza, Feb. 24

Daily events consist of a snow sculpture competition, amateur photo contest and Rondy carnival.

“During winter, everything in Alaska becomes frozen, giving way for rivers to become the highways used to connect us to places we cannot reach otherwise,” McCleary said.

“The word rendezvous means to gather. For many people, connecting with the community is what this festival is all about. It is their chance to celebrate their ability to rondy and revel in the spoils of a long winter.”

For more Fur Rondy information, including the schedule of events, visit www.furrondy.net.

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