Fur Rondy: more than just fun and games.

Author:Sommer, Susan

As a young adult, Jen Harrington as always thrilled to pull the Rondy Guide from the Sunday paper in mid-February. "Finally!" she'd say, "something fun to do!" That late-winter sentiment is echoed today every year across Alaska. Just when we've all had about enough of the cold snaps and icy roads, and the holidays are a distant memory, here comes Fur Rondy to the rescue! Featuring contests and culture, sled dog races and snow sculptures, fur auctions and fireworks, Rondy has something for everyone. And Harrington, who grew up in Anchorage, is more involved now than ever; last summer, she became the nonprofit's executive director.

Fur Rondy is the annual antidote to the winter blues. Named the best winter festival in 2011 in National Geographic Traveler magazine, Rondy gets us outside to compete in goofy contests like the Running of the Reindeer, the Outhouse Races, Yukigassen and snowshoe softball. We bundle up and ride the Gravitron and Zipper on the carnival midway. We carve snow sculptures and throw popcorn at the Melodrama actors on stage. We find treasures to last a lifetime at the Charlotte Jensen Native Arts Market. We don themed costumes and dance the night away at the Miners and Trappers Charity Ball. We boldly wear our fur hats and coats and stroll through downtown shopping and eating and enjoying the crowds. And of course, Alaskans love the World Championship Sled Dog Races.

However, Rondy is more than just fun and games. Many events are fundraisers for nonprofits that share the proceeds with those in need. Event registration fees go toward good causes in the community like Toys for Tots, the Lions Club, and university clubs that share the monies through a variety of projects.

Fur Rendezvous, dubbed "Rondy," is now in its 78th year. Begun in 1935 as a three-day party to coincide with the arrival of miners and trappers selling their bounty in town, Rondy has blossomed into a 10-day festival for kids of all ages. Its headquarters at 4th Avenue and D Street in downtown Anchorage is housed in the historical Wendler Building, moved from its original location where the Hotel Captain Cook now stands. Passersby today can still see the old Club 25 sign jutting from the second floor corner--the club was a popular cafe and bar in the 1940s and '50s and only allowed women at first. It was a much needed oasis in the middle of a male-dominated frontier town.

On the ground floor today is The Fur Rondy Shop, open year-round, and a new partner...

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