Friday begins the 78th Annual Anchorage Fur Rendezvous. The 10-day event, also called the “Fur Rondy” or “Rondy” for short, is one of the highlights of Anchorage events in the calendar year and without question the biggest event outside of tourist season. This is my first Rondy up here, but the best I can tell is very much like other things in the past but as unique as parties can get.
Back in the 1930s, Anchorage was only 3000 people, and during the winter there was absolutely nothing to do except … well … survive. Every year, back then, in February, Anchorage will fill somewhat with trappers and miners coming in to sell what they have and barter for goods & suppliers. A local named Vern Johnson, thought that was as good of an excuse as anything for a party. In 1935, the first Rondy was held over 3 days and included fun things to get out and play – including skiing, hockey, basketball, a dance, and a torchlight parade. They also included a children’s sled dog race that went right down 4th Avenue (one of the main roads still to this day in town).
78 years later, the event is still going on, and keeping with many of the old traditions. For instance, fur trappers still come to town, including “Buckskinners” – the old-time fur trapper re-inactors who will set up skin tents and tepees and make camp near downtown. For those of you from my youth or are from my hometown of Prairie du Chien, WI (53821 … just can’t say that without the zip code for some reason) will probably wonder if this is something like the Rendezvous held there every year for decades. Well … yes it is … nearly identical, and maybe the same buckskinners. The difference is (and Jeff Rogness, get ready to feel even more uncomfortable with your memories of Rendezvous) we aren’t talking about going around in buckskins in Wisconsin June heat … this is Anchorage February. So, wearing a loin cloth has a completely different set of challenges.
The event still has the dance, still has the torchlight parade, still has basketball, skiing, and figure skating. It also includes sports, including the biggest adult outdoor hockey tournament in the world. It has traditional events you would see at any other party like that, complete with carnival rides and carnival food (again, this is Anchorage February … so … tilt-a-whirl will come with frostbite protection).
The highlight of the Rondy is one tradition still around from 1935, dog sled racing. Two of the biggest dog sled races are a part of the Rondy annually. The second weekend includes the ceremonial beginning of the Iditarod, the 1000 mile race to Nome (more about that next week). This weekend includes the biggest spectator dog sled race in the world. A 20 mile track of snow will be put in across the city, including a route that goes down city streets downtown. Teams will race three times (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) with accumulative times naming the winner. But with 20 miles of track, there will be spots you can just stand and watch the race come right at you full speed.
There is winter fun things too, complete with snow statue carving – just like the old Michigan Tech Winter Carnival. These statues aren’t as big, and they use real artists, not drunken engineering students. There’s also art displays, special theatre shows, photo contests, and concerts.
But what is getting me so fired up is all the “unique” events … as if dog sledding, buckskinning in the cold, and snow statues were normal. Check this out:
- Beer Drinking contest, evilly sponsored by a Non-alcoholic beer
- Snowshoe softball, self-explanatory
- Frostbite foot race, sadly also self-explanatory
- Ice Bowling, bowling on ice … not bowling with ice
- Outhouse Races, where teams pull an outhouse on skis or sleds … rules include that the outhouse must come equipped with a rider on a seat and one full roll of toilet paper, door not required
- Yuigassen, no seriously, that is a real thing. Supposedly it’s a mix of ‘capture the flag’, paintball, and snow ball fighting
- Reindeer sausage eating contest, this year featuring ‘Prancer’
- Oyster Shucking Contest, don’t ask me why
- Dog costume, dog lookalike, contest … yeah, its that kind of uncomfortable
- Rollerderby, complete with tough chicks
The last weekend ends the Rondy with a signature event – the Running of the Reindeer. It’s just a street full of idiots running as fast as they can for a few blocks while being chassed by docile, yet confused, reindeer. Loser’s get made into sausage.
So here begins the fun. I’m spending the first weekend curling and will try to hit a few of the events as well. I’m sure this isn’t the last Rondy blog you will hear from me.