ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The 76th annual Fur Rendezvous, starting Friday, won’t just be a city-wide winter carnival -- it will also herald Rondy’s emergence from troubled times as one of Anchorage’s enduring cultural cornerstones.
Fur Rondy was started by Anchorage resident Vern Johnson in 1935 as a seasonal event to celebrate the arrival of miners and trappers in town, along with the fruits of their labor.
What began as a three-day athletic competition eventually became a two-week celebration of all things Alaskan, including Rondy standards like the Alaska Trappers Association Fur Auction, the Miners and Trappers Ball and the World Championship Sled Dog Races.
Several years ago the party nearly stopped, however, due to declining attendance and rising debts as the city reduced its contributions to Fur Rondy. After a few seasons spent struggling to make ends meet, Rondy was gradually able to become a more self-sufficient event.
“Four years ago, it was doubtful that Rondy was going to survive,” said Anchorage Assembly member Ernie Hall, last year’s Fur Rondy Board chair, in a 2010 interview. “Three years ago, we did a pretty dramatic comeback and paid most of the debt, and in the last two years we’ve finished the event up with enough revenue to carry us through to the next event.”
Hall, who remains on Rondy’s board this year, says increased participation by both visitors and sponsors has been a key factor in the event’s return from the brink.
“We definitely gave Rondy back to the community,” Hall said.
According to Hall, more than 30 Outhouse Races teams, who push custom-built outhouses on skis, ran the race last year -- up from eight two years ago. In addition, he says more than 500 people participated in last year’s Frostbite Footrace.
For those who’d rather not be on foot in February, one of Rondy’s new events for this year might hold more promise. The Vintage Snowmachine Exhibition will offer spectators a look at artifacts from Alaska’s past, as riders run 50 to 100 of the state’s oldest running machines down 4th Avenue for the crowd.
Organizer Chris Murphy with Anchorage Yamaha says initial plans to hold a race with the snowmachines were scrapped for lack of a venue in Downtown Anchorage, but the exhibition will let people inspect the vehicles when they’re parked after their run.
“We’re going to stage a bunch of ‘em on 4th, so the crowd can get a look at them,” Murphy said.