Fur Rendezvous Festival Highlights Alaska History, Culture
The countdown has begun to one of Alaska’s most outrageously fun and anticipated annual traditions, the Fur Rendezvous Festival, more commonly referred to as “Fur Rondy.” A celebration of Alaska, its traditions and people, Fur Rondy has been going strong for the past 77 years.
Alaska is steeped in traditions and history that date back long before it became the 49th state or its natural resources were discovered. Many of these traditions, including dog mushing and the fur trade, are deeply rooted in Alaska Native culture and are still alive today and celebrated in events such as the Fur Rondy. These traditions and unique cultures are one of the key reasons that Alaska is a top destination for visitors worldwide and that our team at Gray Line Alaska loves bringing visitors here year after year.
Over the 10 days of Fur Rondy, a slew of exciting and often hilarious events take place around Alaska’s largest city of Anchorage, and the activities offer a wide range for visitors of all ages to enjoy. The first day alone features a photo contest, snow sculpture competition, carnival, basketball tournament, ice skating performance, theatrical show, jam sessions and, most importantly, day one of the Rondy World Championship Sled Dog Races.
And that’s just the start. Fur Rondy is the only event, aside from the ceremonial start of the Iditarod, that brings to the streets such hordes of locals and visitors, even on the coldest of February mornings. Leave it to Alaskans to run down the middle of a downtown street with a herd of reindeer chasing them during the annual Running of the Reindeer; or to dress in absurd costumes and race down the snow-covered streets in creatively designed outhouses during the Outhouse Races; or to partake in a race titled the Frostbite Foot Race. Of course these are some the more modern-day events that have come to be an integral part of the festival.
Fur Rondy actually started in the 1930s, when Anchorage was a town with a population of just about 3,000, and outhouses were still used in other, more populated parts of the country. Anchorage resident Vern Johnson and some of his friends birthed the idea to hold a three-day festival that would take place simultaneously with the return of trappers and miners to town who brought with them their yield from the winter season. The plan was to create an environment conducive to fur trade, the third most valuable industry at the time, while also providing a fun activity for locals during a season when shoveling snow was the common pastime.
Perhaps the most significant relics of an earlier time that still remain in today’s event are the official Fur Rondy Fur Auction; the dog sled races and the Alaska Native Blanket Toss. The Blanket Toss is a tradition that involves a person being flung into the air by a circle of men holding the edges of a round sealskin blanket, and it was incorporated into the festival during the 1950s. Alaska Natives from villages around the state are flown into Anchorage to participate and to showcase their unique traditional dances. The dog sled races were introduced in the mid-1940s and quickly became the cornerstone event of the festival and still attract teams from around the globe.
To learn more about the event history or check out the full array of activities that are part of this year’s Fur Rondy, visit the festival’s website at http://www.furrondy.net/.
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