Fur Rendezvous: An Alaskan classic for 81 years

The Fur Rendezvous, or Fur Rondy, was established in 1935 by Vern Johnson and his friends as a three-day winter festival. A festival that has since been honored by the likes of “National Geographic,” magazine as “The Premier Winter Festival in 2012.”

Current Executive Director of Fur Rondy, Jeff Barney, ex-professional hockey player and commercial fisherman, is in his ninth year as a Rondy employee and his third as director. The organizers of Fur Rondy plan to continue the tradition of excellence in their 81st anniversary. This premier festival is funded mostly through sponsorship of events by a plethora of companies, individuals and corporations.

When asked what his most memorable Rondy experience was, Barney answered, “Being a part of the three dog sled races as a child.”

This is one his favorite events to date, alongside the Running of the Reindeer, an Alaskan take on Spain’s Running of the Bulls. As well as the Outdoor Winter Hockey Tournament put on by Fur Rondy at the rinks of Mulcahey Ice Complex, Delaney Parkstrip and Goose Lake.

“The Slow Ride Bike Race, is the newest event I’m most excited for,” said Barney about new events at Fur Rondy this year. He stated that Alaskan’s are attempting to break a world record for the most fat tire bikes in a race with 1,000 competitors. A record previously held by the state of Wisconsin.

Barney shares a common belief with Fur Rondy Retail Sales Manager, Carol Daugherty, who has been involved with Fur Rondy since 1980. She agrees that the Running of the Reindeer is the most popular event each year.

“I couldn’t imagine Alaska without the Fur Rendezvous festival,” Daugherty said.

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Fur Rondy has become so important to Alaskans and the collectible Fur Rondy pins hold a lot of value.

“It’s probably the heart of Fur Rondy, the memorabilia,” Daugherty said about the infamous Fur Rondy pins, which she has sold for values of up to $700. Barney stated he once witnessed a Cessna Super Cub airplane being traded for a rare Rondy pin about seven years ago.

Erik Judson, a UAA graduate and journalism major, is the current Marketing Director of Fur Rondy.

Judson said he also enjoys much of the same events as his colleagues and that being able to see what goes on in the background of the festival is probably what is most special to him. Fur Rondy only employs five staff members year round to plan and organize such a traditional event. The current five employees held by Fur Rondy will be looking to staff up for the events. Jobs include security, curriers, and even baristas will be needed. Those interested are encouraged to stop by the Fur Rondy offices on Fourth Avenue and E St. in downtown Anchorage to apply.

The lack of snow is a growing factor the Rondy team faces as the events draw closer, but they won’t let that slow down the events. The group says they have established a plan to make sure everything runs as flawless as possible. Including the Iditarod start downtown and other sled dog races through Anchorage’s streets.

As these events unravel, some popular stops will include the World Championship Outdoor Hockey Tournament, Amateur Photo Contests, GCI Snow Sculpture Contest, and the Fur Rondy Carnival. As well as many other fun and exciting activities for children, families, and adults during the now two-week long festival.

Whether its hockey, dog sled races, running for your lives from herds of wild reindeer or just some old school pin trading, Fur Rondy has it all to offer. From Feb. 26 through March 6, head on downtown and enjoy what truly is Alaska’s premier winter event.