Historically, winter in Anchorage, Alaska has a tendency to be long, dark, and rather cold. Combine that with a feeling of isolation thanks to a northerly position on the globe, and residents of Alaska's largest city could have the potential for a bit of Seasonal Affective Disorder. So, in 1935, they decided to throw a party.
Fur Rendezvous, or Fur Rondy, has been a figure of Anchorage winter life since those early days, paying homage to both the season and the fur traders for whom the festival is named.
Originally formed as a way to welcome trappers to town with their winter catch of furs and blow off a bit of community steam as the calendar marched toward spring, Fur Rondy's original events consisted of a baseball game, boys' sled dog race, and big bonfire along downtown's Park Strip. Today's festival has grown much larger to accommodate both a burgeoning Anchorage population of just over 300,000 and to support the broad range of events with definite "Alaskan flair."
Held the last weekend of February, Fur Rendezvous provides a revved-up enthusiasm for increasing daylight and the start of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race the first Saturday in March, just as the festival is winding down. Then, hordes of people flock to downtown Anchorage's 4th Avenue to watch teams depart for Nome and combine their day with Fur Rondy's carnival atmosphere. In 2018, the dates are February 23 to March 4.
Billed as one of the 10 best winter carnivals in the world, Fur Rendezvous is more than an opportunity to ride a Ferris wheel in parka and snow boots; it's a chance to experience Alaska spirit, hospitality, and culture.
Before You Go
First, take these tips into consideration for maximizing your Fur Rendezvous experience:
- Visit Anchorage is the local tourism bureau, offering ideas for dining, lodging, and ancillary activities before, during, and after the Fur Rendezvous festival.
- If you can, stay in downtown Anchorage. Try Anchorage Grand Hotel, Copper Whale Inn, or the Hotel Captain Cook for easy access to all Fur Rendezvous events.
- Dress appropriately for outdoor activity. Some events require standing around in the chilly Alaska weather. Boots, gloves, hats with ear cover, and chemical hand-warming packs are all good ideas.
- Take time to review the Fur Rendezvous website and plan your stay according to the events most appealing to you, taking note that the Ceremonial Start of the Iditarod begins the first Saturday in March.
- Plan to explore other sites around Anchorage offering special festival-themed events, including the Alaska Zoo and Alaska Native Heritage Center.
Fur Rendezvous "Best Bets"
- The Fur Rondy Carnival operates all week during the festival. With traditional rides like the Ferris wheel, Gravitron, and sweet treats to tempt visitors, it's a popular place to be during the week. Amaze your friends with photos from the top of a ride in the middle of winter!
- Frostbite Footrace and Grand Parade participants begin lining up early on the first Saturday of Fur Rendezvous, ready to run the streets of town dressed in costume. The parade immediately follows the race, with Fur Rondy "Royalty" and a host of prominent figures in Alaska life.
- Outhouse races begin that same afternoon, with teams of four constructing their own portable potty on runners, ready to give one lucky participant a ride down 4th Avenue with the hope of winning a prize for most creative, quick, or even slowest.
- Sled dog fans will thrill at the World Championship Dog Sled Races, taking place the entire first weekend of Fur Rendezvous. Unlike the "marathon" dogs of Iditarod, sprint mushing is the name of the game here, with teams running up to 20 MPH in pursuit of each other and a cash prize.
- Perhaps no other race could incite such hilarity as the annual Running With the Reindeer dash along 4th Avenue on the final Saturday of Fur Rondy. Modeled after the famous Running of the Bulls in Spain, the Fur Rendezvous version is much tamer, with house-reared reindeer trotting along the street with the promise of a treat at the other end. GoTip: visitors are welcome to race, but should sign up well in advance of arrival via the Fur Rondy website.
- The Rondy Melodrama is a one-act play designed to showcase the history and humor of Alaska's Last Frontier, with costumes and popcorn to boot. Running the week of Fur Rendezvous and into mid-March, the show features matinees, family nights, and evening shows to accommodate all-comers.
- Sculptures made from snow are constructed by local teams down on Anchorage's Ship Creek and hopefully will remain frozen solid during the entire week of Fur Rondy.
- The annual Native Arts Market is held at a local shopping mall and is an excellent venue to secure one-of-a-kind crafts by Alaska Native artisans. This event is held the first full week of March and is not to be missed by anyone seeking truly authentic representations of Alaska Native art and world-class craftwork.