Winter in Alaska inspires one-of-a-kind travel to-do lists often topped by aurora borealis viewing, winter solstice events and the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. And from Feb. 28 to March 8, a winter celebration that predates both the Iditarod and Alaska statehood will commemorate its 85th anniversary.
The Anchorage Fur Rendezvous features a mix of sports competitions, cultural activities and entertainment that invites attendees to relax and reconnect after a long winter. John McCleary, the festival's executive director, called the gathering "fun and wacky Alaskana."
"It's a family event that celebrates our heritage, celebrates Alaska and celebrates the end of the season," he said. "It lifts spirits just as spring is coming and gets people out to enjoy the amazing winter activities that take place here in Anchorage."
Anchorage resident Vern Johnson and his friends outlined the first "Fur Rondy," as it's known locally, in 1935. That was 38 years before the inaugural Iditarod and 24 years before Alaska became a state. The original festival took place around the time that miners and trappers came to town with their winter hauls.
Today, more than 30 official events and another 60 Rondy Round Town gatherings hosted by community groups make the Fur Rondy a major economic driver during an otherwise quiet time of the year. About 30% of attendees hail from the Lower 48 or international destinations, and they're increasingly tying the trip to a wider winter experience.
"We see people making this an extended vacation rather than a quick stop, because Fur Rondy leads up to the very popular Iditarod events," said McCleary. "People come early in the week to see the World Championship Sled Dog Races, fill their time with all the other activities that take place and then watch the Iditarod at the culmination of their trip."
Produced in collaboration with the Alaskan Sled Dog & Racing Association, this year's Fur Rendezvous Open World Championships takes place from Feb. 28 to March 1. Mushing teams race on a rigorous 25-mile route.
Organizers truck in snow to cover select downtown streets, and racers travel from there out along the city's trail system.
"The sled dog races are run at a sprint, as opposed to the Iditarod's marathon pacing and distance," McCleary said. "It's outright go, and the crowds love to watch."
Photo Credit: Jodyo.photos
Other Fur Rondy events include snowshoe softball, fat-tire bike rides and the Frostbite Footrace that features costumed competitors. More than 1,500 people participate in the Running of the Reindeer, which mimics the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain, and the 70th Miners and Trappers Ball will be headlined by awards for the best beards, mustaches and costumes in various categories.
At the Charlotte Jensen Native Arts Market, approximately 225 Alaska Native artists will demonstrate their crafts and offer their work for purchase.
The Fur Rendezvous schedule also includes carnival rides, a snow-sculpture competition and national talent performing at Jim Beam Jam concerts.
"I can't explain the infusion of excitement and economic impact that this brings to the downtown," said McCleary.
The event is also central to a proposed Anchorage Mushing District project, McCleary said.
To introduce the Fur Rendezvous, the Iditarod and Alaska's sled dog history to a wider audience, the district would include interpretive signs, a Mushing Hall of Fame and a commemorative steel arch across Fourth Avenue. Fundraising is underway; leaders hope to unveil project components by 2023.
"Our winter visitors already love Fur Rondy, but we'd like to enhance visibility among summer visitors," McCleary said. "Hopefully, we'll inspire them to plan a trip back up here in the wintertime."