Kooky events at this annual carnival
in Anchorage keep
It’s too late for most of us to become an Olympic figure skater, a professional quarterback, or a threat to basketball great LeBron James, but if you can get to Anchorage, Alaska, this winter, there’s still a chance for sporting glory.
The Anchorage Fur Rendezvous, a wacky 10-day festival that takes place on the streets of Alaska’s biggest city, is recruiting good sports for such events as ice bowling, outhouse racing, and snowshoe softball.
Fur Rendezvous, or as they say in Anchorage, “Rondy,” will be Feb. 27 to March 8; it will be the festival’s 80th anniversary. The festival has grown to include more than 100 events; there’s a competition for every skill level, every taste, every questionable motive. Here’s a small sampling of the many events in which you can excel.
Snowshoe softball. If you can leap for a fly-ball, field a grounder, tag a runner, and slide into home plate with a couple of 25- to 36-inch contraptions strapped to your boots, you’re a candidate for snowshoe softball acclaim.
Mr. Fur Face. This rigorous competition, the Alaska State Championship Beard and Moustache Contest, takes place every year at the Miners and Trappers Ball, one of the Rondy’s longest-running traditions. Categories range from longest beard to best facial hair design.
Blanket toss. This event–a riff on an ancient Alaska Native whaling tradition–is great fun, unless you’re afraid of heights. Using an aerodynamic walrus skin, fliers are tossed as high as 20 feet into the air by their teammates gripping tight to the edges.
Yukigassen. This hard-to-pronounce event is a cross between the games capture the flag, paintball, and a good old-fashioned snowball fight. Originating in the Land of the Rising Sun (its name, in fact, is Japanese for snow battle), this sanctioned event doubles as the official U.S. championships, so win here and you might find yourself in Japan.
Leaf blower hockey. In an outrageous affront to hockey fans everywhere, this sport involves teams of five players strapping on this gardening tool to blow Wiffle® balls into waiting nets. No skates are used in three 10-minute periods.
Running of the reindeer. Picture in your mind the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. In this mellower Anchorage event, the reindeer–which are moving 20 mph faster than their bovine counterparts–run down Fourth Avenue while daring humans try to keep up while 30,000 folks look on this wacky scene. It’s performed not for a medal or a trophy, but for the glory and the T-shirt.
Outhouse races. Sponsored by the University of Alaska Anchorage, this unusual race involves open-air outhouses on skis. Each team requires three participants: two to propel the porta potty and one to ride. It’s not as easy as it would seem; Jeff Barney, executive director of the Rondy, said last year at least one person fell off his seat and broke his leg.
Waiter/Waitress races. If you can handle a tray, this could be your ticket to international fame. Participants race around an obstacle course with a tray filled with loaded drinks. Those who can finish without spilling a drop take home the spoils.
Frostbite footrace. Costumes are highly recommended for this series of 5K and 2.5K fun runs. Former years’ scouting reports divulged dinosaurs, peacocks, and look-alikes of the rock group Kiss and the Avengers.
The longest-running sled dog race in Alaska (it’s not the Iditarod,) is one of the traditions honored at the festival. The Rondy World Championship Sled Dog Race, which has been around since 1946–27 years longer than the Iditarod–pits sled dogs and their mushers on three high-speed, 25-mile loops that run through downtown Anchorage. Past winners are enshrined in the Dog Mushing Hall of Fame in the back of Caffe D’arte. Play your cards right and you can even have your photo taken in a musher’s fur coat and pose on a sled.
Native arts and crafts can be seen and purchased at the Charlotte Jensen Native Arts Market that’s held at the Dimond Center mall. See everything from porcupine quill earrings to sealskin boots to carvings made by Aleut fishermen. Hundreds of artisans from across Alaska come to this annual event.
Like most quality festivals, Rondy also features fireworks, a popcorn-throwing melodrama, parades, snow sculptures, and crowned royalty. And remember the commemorative collector’s pin offered each year at the festival. This year’s pin recognizes the festival’s 80th anniversary and the centennial for Anchorage. The pin and other festival merchandise are available at the festival offices at Fourth Avenue and D Street in downtown Anchorage.
The Rondy is a lively mix of silly fun and deep-rooted Alaskan heritage. There’s no better way to celebrate winter in Anchorage.
Pam Grout is a contributor from Lawrence, Kan.
January/February 2015 Issue
It’s an exciting winter wonderland in Anchorage
Alaska attracts large numbers of visitors during spring through fall, with summer being the prime time for travel. But winter has a special beauty and its own list of adventurous activities. With daytime high temperatures in the 20s, Anchorage is much like the ski resorts found in the Rocky Mountains, Canada, or Europe. Dress in layers and head to Alaska’s largest city for a memorable winter getaway. Here are a few suggested activities you’ll not want to miss in and around Anchorage.
These natural wonders are Alaska’s No. 1 visitor attraction, and south-central Alaska has the greatest concentration of accessible glaciers in the state. Cruises are offered year-round and are a great way to see the glaciers. Cruise to beautiful Prince William Sound from the nearby town of Whittier. For a memorable land-based adventure, another option is a snowmobile tour to a glacier with Glacier City Snowmobile Tours.
Dog Sledding and Racing
Alaska’s official sport appeals to dog lovers, and half- or full-day tours are available from Anchorage. Many experiences involve question-and-answer time with mushers and face time with the dogs.
If you’re coming to Alaska for the Iditarod, which will take off from Anchorage on March 7, or Rondy’s World Championship Sled Dog Race from Feb. 27–March 1, you can add the experience of sled dog tour to your itinerary. During these events, it would be wise to reserve your tour in advance.
Ionized gas particles reacting with the Earth’s magnetic field create the unforgettable and colorful natural light shows across the sky. Best displays tend to be during winter, and prime viewing spots include Alyeska Resort located 39 miles south of Anchorage. Guests at The Hotel Alyeska can request aurora wake-up calls upon check-in. Local aurora forecasts are available from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Add in winter sports such as skiing, snowboarding, or snowmobiling, plus a selection of fine dining, brewpubs, and many entertainment options and it’s clear that Anchorage can be a standout winter vacation you won’t soon forget.
Catch the Northern Lights. Anchorage CVB photo
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