This year marks the 80th anniversary of the annual Fur Rondy celebration. It began in 1935, started by Anchorage native Vern Johnson (Vern!) who was looking to drum up some entertainment back in an era where there was no television, internet, malls, or movie theaters in town to help locals get through the long, cold winter.
Vern opted to time the festival so that it coincided with the week in February where trappers and miners came to town with their bounty (hence "Fur Rondy", short for "Fur Rendezvous"). It began as a three-day sports competition with skiing, hockey, boxing, and a children's dog sled race and has since become one of Alaska's largest festivals with 10 days of events.
I like the way this particular festival has evolved because it doesn't take itself that seriously. There are still sports competitions, highly regarded auctions run by the Alaska Trappers Association, and loads of Anchorage pride at the heart of Fur Rondy. But they've also added a lot in the way of traditions focused around local color (see the Running of the Reindeer, the Outhouse Races, and the Miners and Trappers Ball below) so that the original purpose of Vern's festival - a way for the city's locals to get together and get a bit silly during one of the coldest stretches of the year - remains.
2015 Fur Rondy festivities run from February 27 thru March 8. Some highlights include:
Friday, Feb 27
Jim Bean Jam with live music and dancing to kick off the festival
Friday, Feb 27 - Sunday, March 1
World Championship Dog Sled Races, which see some of the best mushers from across the globe racing from the corner of Fourth Avenue and D Street in downtown through the city's forests and roads along a 25-mile loop.
Saturday, Feb 28
10:30am: Rondy Grand Parade down Fifth and Sixth Avenues
4pm: Lots of local color guaranteed at the "Outhouse Races". Teams rig up loos on skis, floats (you name it) and race down 4th Avenue. There are also prizes for Best Theme, Most Colorful, and Best Engineered.
6:45pm: Fireworks extravaganza over downtown
Sunday, March 1
12:00pm - 3pm: State Hide & Horn Auction
Wednesday, March 4 - Sunday, March 8
Charlotte Jenson Native Arts Market featuring work from over 150 local artisans
Saturday, March 7
4pm: Running of the Reindeer, a sillier, mellower take on Pamplona's famous running of the bulls
6:30pm: Miners and Trappers Ball Come dressed in costume and see who will win the Alaska State Championship Beard and Mustache contest