The Fur Rendezvous which takes place in February, is a uniquely Alaskan Celebration that was started in the late 1930s.
Winter in Alaska is awfully long, dark and cold. The local citizens needed something to cheer them up and miners and trappers came to town at that time. So a festival breaking up the winter season was very welcome. It also gave everyone a fun way to exchange their goods.
Originally, the Fur Rendezvous was three days of sports tournaments, a fur auction, bonfire, torchlight parade and a sled dog race for children down Fourth Avenue of Anchorage.
A number of other events have been added through the years, and some of the sports have changed, but the sled dog races still start on Fourth Avenue.
The Fur Rendezvous has now become a ten day celebration with a tremendous number of events. Here are some of the highlights of this local celebration that became popular worldwide:
NOTE: "Rendezvous" is a french word which means, a meeting or coming together of people. The local Alaskans often say, "Rondy" in place of the longer version.
• Basketball Tournament - This was one of the original events of the Fur Rendezvous and because it's an indoor event, it gives you a chance to get out of the cold.
• Carnival of the Rondy - What would a festival be without a carnival? And this one is different from most by being held in one of the coldest months of the year - in Alaska, that is.
• Fur Auction - The Alaska Trappers Association continues to put on the Fur Auction which was one of the original events. And it is why this celebration was named, "Fur Rendezvous".
• Grand Parade of the Rondy - This takes place on 5th and 6th Avenue, two of the main downtown Anchorage streets. Again, this was one of its original events and has always been there.
• Grand Prix Auto Race - A traditional Rondy event. And where else would you think of having a street race in the winter, except in Alaska!
• Hockey Tournaments - These outdoor competitions were one of the original events and has been returned as part of this celebration for some years. They are held in the local parks.
• Sled Dog Races - In 1946, the local sled dog race became "World Championship Sled Dog Races". This is a three day event in itself. People come from all over the world to take part in them. There are also smaller sled dog races that less experienced “mushers” can take part in.
• Snowshoe Softball - A traditional Rondy event. You'll probably never see this one anyplace else, so here's your chance.
• Eskimo Blanket Toss - In 1950, Eskimos were brought from Nome and Little Diomede Island for the Fur Rendezvous. They performed some of their Native Tribal Dances as well as one of their traditional sports - the Blanket Toss. The last is like a human trampoline. A group of Natives hold a circular fur hide tightly while one person gets on it, and is tossed up in the air by those holding the hide. They perform gymnastic feats this way.
• Miner's and Trapper's Ball - This has been a long time Fur Rondy event and includes the famous beard growing contest.
From at least the 1940's, they had a "law" that all men had to grow beards at this time of year and if they didn't, they were fined! Of course, everyone followed this tradition in good humor. Beards were often dyed, shaped and decorated. I know of one fellow who made his beard look like the Alaskan flag!
This event is a lot of fun and designed to provide funding for many of the local charities.
• Multi-tribal Gathering - An event for young and old. The Alaska Native cultures perform their traditional dances in the Egan Center, in downtown Anchorage.
In addition to the above, there are theater productions that celebrate Alaska's History, ice skating performances, airshow displays, snow sculpture competitions, and many other games, dances, shows, contests, displays and rides, too numerous to mention. Many are provided by local vendors.
And when you start freezing and need to go inside and warm up, you can try such things as the Open Table Tennis Championships where anyone can participate! Or many other sit down tournaments and competitions in the local community centers. Or you can pop into one of the local restaurants for some hot beverages.
Despite the many new activities, the Fur Rendezvous has never lost its Alaskan flavor. You'll find such things as a Reindeer Sausage Eating Contest! The Alaskan Natives are also an important part of the celebration, as they should be. In addition to their performances, they display and sell their beautiful native handicrafts at the local Dimond Mall. This is a "must" to see.
To give you a better idea of the numerous events that take place each year, here is the schedule for the 2010 event.
So if you are a winter visitor in Alaska, help Alaskans enjoy one of their most important and lengthy celebrations. Join them for the now-famous Fur Rendezvous!
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