Snapshots of Fur Rondy's opening weekend

dkelly@adn.comFebruary 22, 2014 

We spent the day at Fur Rendezvous, meeting people and collecting stories. Here are a few of those stories:

Stepping off with Star

At 10 a.m. on Saturday, Kyesha Kelly, 5, was walking up E Street. Suddenly, she stopped and pointed at a white horse-drawn carriage, rolling by a block away.

"It looks like a Cinderella carriage!" Kyesha said with delight.

A few minutes later, she and her grandmother, Sandy Bertini, were standing at the corner of Sixth Avenue and D Street. This is Bertini's prime viewing spot, the place where the Fur Rendezvous parade celebration both starts and ends.

"It's like you get to see it twice," she said.

Along D Street, the parade was beginning to assemble. Star the reindeer stood near the front of the parade. Her caretaker, Albert Whitehead, fed her frosted mini-wheats from a plastic bag.

She's the sixth reindeer to be named Star. A reindeer with that name has appeared in every Fur Rendezvous parade since 1962.

The bands began to strike up. People shouted: "Ready to go!"

The parade lasted for more than an hour with an exuberant procession of clubs and organizations, members of the military, revving motorcycles, race cars and automobiles, tractors, a juggler pulled by a bike, Girl Scouts dressed as cookies. Marchers cried out, "Happy Rondy!"

Michelle Lacey knelt on the sidewalk with her 19-month-old daughter, Anniston. Lacey was born and raised in Anchorage, and remembers going to Fur Rondy as a youngster.

She even made an appearance in a long-running 1980s Fur Rondy television ad, riding on someone's shoulder, said her mom, Renae Axelson.

"We love Fur Rondy," Axelson said. "We come every year."

Time to get your fur

12:57 p.m.: "Come up and take a look at these tanned mink, right here they are. $200! Come up and take a look at all three of 'em. Do I hear a $200 bid anywhere? A $200 bid? Do I hear $150? $150? How about 125?"

On the stage at the Alaska Trappers Association fur auction, auctioneer Steve Child talked a mile a minute, plying fur after fur to a growing crowd.

Jen Dawkins, 28, stood near the front, a furry lynx hat on her head and black bear fur gloves on her hands. She and her husband, Chris, traveled from North Pole for Fur Rendezvous -- but in particular, for the auction.

She placed the winning bid on a silver fox fur, for $140. She said she likes furs for decoration.

Where will the latest acquisition end up? Probably on a wall, Dawkins said. "We don't do anything fancy."

Garry Berndt, 50, placed the winning bid on the otter furs after a brief back-and-forth bidding war. These are the first otter furs he's owned, he said, in a collection that already consists of fox, beaver and coyote furs.

Berndt, also bid on a pair of fox furs, spending about $600 on the day.

"It's a bargain," he said.

Next year, Berndt hopes to add a wolf fur to his collection.

It's the 17th straight year that the Trappers Association has run the fur auction, but the event has been around as long as Fur Rendezvous itself .

"This is where Fur Rondy started," said Allen Dubord, an auction coordinator and former chairman of the association.

Pull, L.T.! Pull!

2:50 p.m.: Across town, behind the Northway Mall, LT, a 4-year-old Saint Bernard, strained against the harness wrapped around his shaggy fur.

"Do it LT! Go, go!" the announcer yelled into the microphone.

A green sled stacked with 2,000 pounds of concrete cylinders was attached to the end of the harness. It was the last heavyweight round of the World Championship Dog Pull Competition, where 16 dogs competed in various weight categories.

As LT pulled the sled over a red finish line, his handler, Jeff Nelson, fell over with a smile, his arms outstretched. LT had won the heavyweight title.

Strong dogs have always pulled weight in Alaska, Nelson said before the start of the competition. When miners and trappers settled here, the dogs helped pull household goods, he said.

Perhaps the most famous weight pull, albeit a fictional one, can be found in Jack London's "Call of the Wild," when the dog Buck pulls a 1,000 pound sled that was frozen to the ground.

The first dog weight pull in Anchorage happened in 1962 in a Sears parking lot, a challenge between a Saint Bernard and a great Pyrenees, according to Kat Gambill, treasurer of the Alaska Canine Weight Pulling Association.

The St. Bernard won, pulling 600 pounds.

Minnons, bowling bears and bighorn sheep

3:35 p.m.: "That's cool! What are you guys doing?" "A muskox." "Oh, I see it!"

At the snow sculpting competition, blocks of snow were slowly transforming into shapes. A bighorn sheep. The man-eating plant from Little Shop of Horrors. The time machine from the TV show "Dr. Who." A bear bowling at seals.

Last year, the Eaton family of Wasilla started a tradition. They booked a room on the top floor at the Comfort Inn with prime views of the snow sculpting competition. They did it again this year, and planned to watch the fireworks from the hotel Saturday night.

Louise Eaton, 10, liked a set of the snow sculptures themed on minions from the "Despicable Me" films, created by the Service High School teachers and the Special Olympics Partner Club.

Her brother, Kamren, 14, liked a Pegasus sculpture.

One of the Pegasus' creators, Patrick Boonstra, said the snow conditions were tough this year, filled with granular ice pieces that made the snow difficult to shape.

When you got to go

3:52 p.m.: Almost time for the Fur Rondy outhouse races to start.

A menagerie of irreverent, wacky winter versions of go-karts filled the street near the intersection of Fourth Avenue and F Street. Into the early evening, teams competed head-to-head, kicking up snow and raising cheers as they swung around a corner to end the course.

Announced over the loudspeakers, team names were jam-packed with bathroom puns and double entendres.

The unifying decorating theme was toilet seats and paper rolls. Several teams attached Go Pros to helmets or the "outhouses" themselves.

Not all entries looked like your traditional external privy. A team fielded by the Booz Allen Hamilton consulting firm built what resembled a desk, complete with a Donald Duck coffee mug, a light, a computer, and a chair with a toilet seat mounted on top.

An UMIAQ team, calling themselves the "Arctic Scat Pack," built a plywood racer shaped like a bowhead whale. Flags were draped from a masthead made out of a CB radio antenna.

"It might be a little wide," Cindy Shake, marketing and communications manager for UMIAQ, said of the racer, laughing.

Then there was the "Frankensalmon" outhouse, which appeared to be a green and red fish with teeth, gold eyes and shredded trash bags on its head.

"It's a genetically engineered salmon," said team member Dennis Moore, 48, of Eagle River.

The group of biologists and teachers has raced for the last eight years, Moore said. They usually choose a political theme -- the Kulluk Shell oil rig that ran ground, Sarah Palin. "I can see Russia from my outhouse" was a theme one year.

Competition was fierce, but everywhere you looked, people were smiling.

"This really brightens up winter," said Shake, of the UMIAQ team.

Reach Devin Kelly at or 257-4314.


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