Fur Rendezvous, better known as Fur Rondy, is an annual winter tradition in Alaska since 1935. What began as a three-day sporting event has evolved into a full-blown, internationally-known 10-day festival.
“[Fur Rondy] is a community celebration, by the community, celebrating our heritage and the end of winter,” executive director John McCleary said. “It is also a celebration of family fun.”
The 2020 Fur Rondy event marks the festival’s 85th anniversary. Since its debut, Fur Rondy has become the largest winter festival in Alaska, according to Fur Rondy’s official website, furrondy.net. This year’s events will take place from Feb. 28-March 8.
Many of the event’s activities have been part of the festival for over 20 years. The blanket toss, an Alaska Native tradition, joined the festival in 1950. Anyone is welcome to participate in this year’s toss on Feb. 29 from 4-5:30 p.m. at Third and E Street.
In 1946, the World Championship Sled Dog race became an integral part of the event, according to Fur Rondy’s website. Everyone is welcome to attend the free event and watch as the mushing teams race by.
The internationally-acclaimed Running of the Reindeer event is starting its 13th year of raising money for Toys for Tots, a non-profit organization that distributes Christmas toys to children whose families cannot afford them. Event-goers can run alongside Alaska reindeer in four herd categories: guys, gals, couples or tourists. The event will take place on March 7 on Fourth Avenue between H and D Street. Racers must be at least 18 years old and are required to sign waivers. A $30 per person entry fee is charged to run, while watching is free.
The Alaska State Snow Sculpture Championship is another popular event where artists of varying skills created sculptures from blocks of compressed snow. Winners of the championship go to the U.S. National Snow Sculpting Championship and compete as Alaska’s team.
Numerous other more recent events have become staples of the winter festival as well, such as the Snowshoe Softball Tournament, AT&T’s Fireworks Extravaganza, the Jim Bean Jam and the Frostbite Footrace and Costume Fun Run. Fur Rondy event-goers can also enjoy carnivals, parades, concerts, races and winter games.
Of the around 50 events that take place during the Fur Rondy festival, 30 are put on by the company itself, according to McCleary, while the remaining events are hosted by the community. Thirty-eight different community and non-profit organizations, such as the American Cancer Society, the American Legion Post 28, the Boy Scouts and the Miss Alaska Scholarship Program, also host events to raise money for their causes.
“We not only provide a festival, [but] we provide an economic impact,” McCleary said. “Our goal is to create an impact, whether it’s inviting local, state or international visitors to our community.”
Last year, Fur Rondy donated $13,000 to Toy for Tots. The Miners and Trappers ball, a Rondy tradition that will be celebrating its 70th anniversary at this year’s festival, serves as a Lions Club fundraiser and has raised millions of dollars for local charities, according to Fur Rondy’s website.
UAA’s Engineering Club will present the Fur Rondy outhouse races during this year’s festival. In lieu of the 94 hours on average a person spends on the loo, Fur Rondy hosts a race that requires teams to build an outhouse on a set of skis and race each other to the finish line. Groups can register on the Fur Rondy website by Feb. 22 for a chance to win trophies and cash prizes during the race on Feb. 29 at Fourth Avenue and E Street.
“Why not have the new generation of Rondy-goers and students who have never heard of a great winter festival be part of [Fur Rondy]?” McCleary said.
UAA freshman business management major Roy Franklin is taking part in the Fur Rondy Amateur Photo Contest this year. Franklin submitted 10 photos in hopes of having his pictures displayed at the Midtown Mall during the festival. Registration for the contest ended on Jan. 31.
“I think it’s a cool thing they put on,” Franklin said. “I’m excited to share my photos with the community and get my stuff out there.”
McCleary invites UAA students and faculty to join the March 8 family skate at Westchester Lagoon to enjoy music and “show the green and gold.”