A Fur Rondy without sled dog races might seem hard to imagine, but it almost came to that. All through January, Rondy organizers worried that the festival mainstay would be canceled due to a lack of snow. It's happened before, but not often -- five times since 1946.
Then the festival got a helping hand from Mother Nature. The race is on, with the Fur Rendezvous Open World Championship starting noon Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The sled dog teams will start at Fourth Avenue and D Street and wind their way through town. And of course, the biggie is Saturday, March 2, with the ceremonial start of the Iditarod downtown.
But in the week leading up to that, the 78th annual Fur Rondy offers a mix of old traditions and recently added staples. Here's a look at some of the best of the old and new.
Running of the Reindeer
It may be one of the newer quirks of the fest, but the Running of the Reindeer wasted no time becoming arguably the main attraction. You can sign up for the sixth annual race down Fourth Avenue at furrondy.net. Registration fee is $25, and you can sign up for one of three "herds": guys, gals and couples/groups. The races start 4 p.m. Saturday, March 2. Bib pickup is 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Thursday and Friday, March 1, at Rondy Headquarters and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. on race day at Platinum Jaxx. Now would be a pretty good time to start picking out a ridiculous costume to wear while fleeing those antlers.
An even newer addition is Yukigassen, the Capture the Flag/snowball fight imported from Japan. Last year the team competition moved from the Delaney Park Strip to its new home at the Hilltop Ski area. Team registration has been extened online through today, furrondy.net. Check out the co-ed, men's and high school teams 8:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The Rondy competition also serves as the U.S. Yukigassen championship, with the winner of the men's tournament eligible to represent the United States in the Yukigassen World Championship in Japan. The previous two winners haven't been able to make the trek, but this year could be the year Fur Rondy finds a world champion.
Alaska Trappers Association Fur Auction
Of course, the reason this whole thing got started 78 years ago was because this was when trappers in the Bush came to town to sell their wares. Now we have the Alaska Trappers Association Fur Auction. Place your bids 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and March 2 at Rondy Central, Third Avenue and E Street.
Fur Rondy Melodrama
This year the Alaska Sound Celebration presents "Turnagain Temptations" as its Fur Rondy Melodrama, a stage production about a schoolteacher who misinterprets a help-wanted ad in the local newspaper. That leads to mistaken identities and what's promised to be plenty of double entendres. Show times at Snow Goose Theatre are 8 p.m. Friday, Thursday and March 1; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday and March 2; 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday and March 3. Tickets are $18-$23, with a $2 discount for seniors, youth and military. Visit centertix.net for info.
Big Air Snowboarding Demo
If you find yourself downtown Saturday checking out the carnival at Third Avenue and E Street, hop off the Ferris wheel and stroll to the Big Air Snowboarding Demo down the hill. Freestyle boarders will hit the ramp and test gravity just before the Rondy fireworks show. The demo gets under way 5 p.m., with the fireworks taking place sometime after 6 p.m.
Want to see teams of five push makeshift outhouses on skis down the street while in costume? Of course you do. Aside from trophies handed out based on the race results, awards will be presented for Best Theme, Most Colorful, People's Choice, Cleanest, Most Realistic, Best Engineered and Best Architecture. Watch the potty-sleds avoid being No. 2 in head-to-head heats down Fourth Avenue between E and F streets beginning 4 p.m. Saturday.
Miners and Trappers Charity Ball
Get decked out and head to the Egan Center for this local charity fundraiser, and guys, if it's been a while since your last shave, you might look to enter the Mr. Fur Face Contest, Alaska's beard and mustache championship. Tickets for the ball are $30, available at furrondy.net (21 and older).
These events just skim the surface of the two-week winter festival, the full schedule is available here. You can also check furrondy.net for full details on happenings like the giant Charlotte Jensen Native Arts Market at the Dimond Center, the snow sculptures at Ship Creek, snowshoe softball at Kosinski Field (16th Avenue and Cordova Street) and Saturday's Rondy Grand Parade.