Every year, Anchorage’s streets come to life in celebration of the city’s annual Fur Rendezvous event. The event — which is also known as the Fur Rondy or just ‘Rondy’ — honors Anchorage’s rich culture while also marking the approach of spring after a long winter. It’s not only the biggest winter festival in Alaska, it’s also renowned for being the largest festival in all of North America.
The inspiration for Fur Rondy came from an idea to build a festival around the time that trappers and miners were returning to Anchorage to sell their goods. This was the brainchild of Vern Johnson, who has cemented himself in history as the father of the Fur Rondy, and began as a three-day sports tournament. Just one year after its conception, the entire population was attending Vern’s festival. Since then, it’s gained national and international acclaim, with people from all over the world traveling to Anchorage to participate in part of (or the entirety of) the now 10-day event.
This year marks the 85th anniversary of the Fur Rendezvous festival, which started at the end of February and wrapped up this past Sunday. The activities range from commonplace to zany, and Alaskans use this event as an opportunity to celebrate their heritage while also having some fun while doing it! Here are seven examples of how natives got their “Rondy on” this year:
1. The Blanket Toss
This event, which actually mimics an ancient whaling tradition, was introduced into the festival in the 50s. Around 40 volunteers grab hold of the blanket (traditionally made from whale or seal skin) and launch participants into the air. The winner: the person who can bounce the highest!
2. Fireworks Show
Alaska doesn’t typically celebrate events with firework shows like the lower 48 does, but we make an exception for the Fur Rondy. This year, AT&T funded the fireworks extravaganza and the pyrotechnic artists made sure to paint the sky with bright, beautiful colors.
3. The Rondy Fur Auction
If you didn’t make the connection already, the “fur” in Fur Rondy represents the importance of the fur trade to Alaska’s economy. For years, it was the third most valuable industry, so it makes sense that it’s incorporated into the festival. At the fur auction put on by the South Central Chapter of the Alaska Trappers Association, people can choose from over 1,000 different hides that are provided by trappers around the state.
4. Outhouse Races
Ever heard of outhouse races? If you attend the Fur Rondy, you’ll see why it’s one of the most popular events of the entire festival. In fact, of all the outhouse races in the world (which there are actually a lot of), Fur Rondy’s is the largest. Alaska locals compete (in costume!) for the title of king and queen of the porcelain throne.
5. Reindeer Sausage Eating Contest
You can’t have a festival without food, right? What better way to celebrate than to have a competitive eating contest where participants race to consume as much as they can of one of Alaska’s delicacies?
6. Open World Championship Sled Dog Races
This is one of the most anticipated events of the festival. For three days, mushers from all over Alaska race the same 25-mile route for a total of 75 miles to see who has the most endurance, speed, and agility. Only one man-and-dog team can reign supreme!
7. Running of the Reindeer
You’ve heard of the running of the bulls in Spain, but Alaska has their own version: the running of the reindeer. Willing participants pay to run alongside these majestic animals (with all donations going to Toys for Tots). It’s divided into four categories: guys, girls, groups, and tourists.
These are just a few of the many events that happen during the Fur Rendezvous festival. You can see a more detailed list here.