Saturday, February 24, 2007

Let's Rondy!

This weekend in Anchorage was the beginning of The Fur Rendezvous Festival. What is this festival all about? According to Wikipedia:

The Fur Rendezvous Festival (usually called Fur Rendezvous, Fur Rondy, or simply Rondy) is an annual winter festival held in Anchorage, Alaska in late February. The self-styled "largest winter festival in North America", Fur Rendezvous is highly anticipated by many Anchorage-area residents as marking the beginning of the end of a long winter and the approach of spring.

In 1935, Anchorage had a population of only about 3,000 and was very isolated, so to bring the community together and lift spirits, resident Vern Johnson organized a three-day sports tournament, called the Winter Sports Carnival, timed to coincide with the rendezvous, which brought increased activity. As the fur trade was then the second-largest industry in Alaska, folding it into the event seemed natural, and it was renamed the Winter Sports Tournament and Fur Rendezvous from 1937, and later just Fur Rendezvous.

Fur Rendezvous was canceled during the war years, but resumed in 1946, when the festival began to draw visitors from Outside, and has been held every year since. Since 1955 the event has been run by the non-profit Greater Anchorage, Inc.

Traditionally Fur Rendezvous lasted ten days, but since 2004 it has extended through early March, in order to lead into the Iditarod and draw more visitors. Its importance has declined over the years as Anchorage has grown and become more closely connected to the Lower 48 and the rest of the world, removing some of the need for events like Rondy, but it remains extremely popular.

Since this was our first oppourtunity to attend a community event, Adria and I decided that we should head downtown and check it out. After parking our car, we found park that had a bunch of ice sculptures, like this whale:

And this sculpture of a dolphin (unfortunately, there was no Gilbert Arenas ice sculpture).

If you look behind Adria, you can see a quite a bit of ice. The entire square had a nice smooth layer of ice, as if they had taken a Zamboni and smoothed it out. They even had a section of this ice surface blocked off so that people could play curling. Neither of us had ever seen a live game of curling, and what little curling we had watched was only in the Olympics.

Because Rondy is at its heart basically a fur traders convention, there were lots of furiers selling their wares. Almost every fur store that we came across was having a sale on their furs. There were even some fur booths set up on the sidewalk

This particular booth had hats made of beaver, fox, wolf and muskrat as well as wolf and fox pelts. We also attended a fur auction. The auctioneer in this picture is trying to auction off a pillow made out of a white fox. As you can also see from the picture that most people in the audience are wearing at some article of clothing made with animal fur. When I told Adria about this festival and its origins she said "This event would never fly in Portland." While Adria realizes that fur is really warm and has many benefits as a material, she isn't ready to purchase any fur just yet. I, on the other hand am desirous to unpack my rabbit-lined fur hat. One thing that I didn't expect to see was so many fur hats that still had the head of the animal still attached. An example of this is below:

Another major Rondy event is the Fur Rondy World Championship Sled Dog Race. While this race isn't as long or as prestigous as The Iditarod or The Yukon Quest, this race seems to be one of the more important dog sled races around. Although we missed the start of the race, we were able to catch some of the teams as they crossed the finish line. It was interesting to see the dogs up close as they approached the finish line because their slobber had frozen and turned to ice around their mouths, kind of like a what happens to a mustached-football coach during cold games.

There also are fireworks to celebrate the beginning of Rondy, but we missed them. But thanks to YouTube, you can see that they looked like this:

Here are some other pictures from our time that we spent at Rondy:

We saw this bear on the side of a building:

Adria thought that these ponies were cute. They were giving rides to kids just before we took this picture

Here I am with a bear and raven statue outside of The Bear & Raven Adventure Theater.

Here is a statue commemorating the dogs that took part in the 1925 diptheria serum run to Nome.

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