It seems clear that Anchorage Fur Rendezvous is struggling to get the younger generation of Alaskans to involve themselves in the historic annual winter festival. The Yukigassen championships, a snowball fight that was highly successful in its first year, was canceled, as was leaf blower hockey. Both events, aimed towards younger crowds, had low registration, prompting their cancelation.
"Our parents did Fur Rondy," Fur Rendezvous Executive Director Jeff Barney said. "My parents did Fur Rondy. They collect the pins. But this generation isn't going to collect pins. I am not going to collect pins. I mean, I try to. But it's hard to find the next best thing."
Running of the Reindeer has become successful, drawing large numbers of participants and big crowds to Fourth Avenue. Barney said the T-shirts have become "almost like collector's items. People have to get them every year."
Also pulling in big crowds is the Big Air Demo. This year, roughly 2,500 people lined up to watch riders soar over Second Avenue in downtown Anchorage. But the extreme event got a lot of flack this year. The riders took off from a sketchy ramp built from plywood and metal scaffolding, and Onboard Magazine, an international shredding publication, called the jump "a little bit shit." Facebookers were quick to insult the event, the jump, the riders who take on the jump without compensation, and the event organizers.
Darrin Huycke and Conan Dolezal, who put on the high-flying event through their organization Collaborative Minds, said there were a lot of factors that came along with Big Air's struggles in recent years, from flaky volunteers to a lack of Fur Rondy support and little communication.
"In a sense (Fur Rondy) were easy (to work with) because they weren't around," said Dolezal. "They didn't micromanage us."
Huycke also said they didn't get all of the funding they needed to put on the event, and added that organizers had to fork over about $300 of their own money. Rondy did hook them up with a $2,000 sponsorship from Rockstar energy drinks, but that went straight to B.C. Excavating for a bulldozer and operator. They depended on outside donations and volunteers for the rest.
But Barney said that's not the case.
"We give them all of the money to set the thing up," Barney said. "It is not on our part that things don't work. I close the streets for them at the time they want. I give them the sponsorship money to get everything they need. But it is in their hands. I can't go down and build a jump. They are given everything they want." He added that the only thing to which the organization said "no" was adding rails to the extreme event. He said he wants them to perfect what they already have before adding more elements.
"I put my neck on the line for those guys," said Barney. "They continuously do things. They don't live up to what they say they are going to do. They have these younger kids who think they can build a jump. I have put my neck on the line with the city and this stuff -- it is a struggle every year for me to get the city to approve it. I have been told many times by the city that it is not allowed back and I have been told that this group is never allowed back. It is never done professionally."
Huycke and Dolezal said it's been a learning process since they took over. The first year Collaborative Minds ran it, the event was canceled. "It was a huge learning lesson," said Huyke. And key volunteers backed out at the last minute this year. On the Wednesday leading up to the Big Air, Rondy suggested they cancel the event when a crane operator was no longer able to help out.
And despite each organization's views on what really went wrong, they actually agree on a few things, especially the importance of safety and the event's ability to attract a younger crowd.
Now the question is whether or not either of these organizations will pull the plug. Huycke and Dolezal said they will need more support from the community and Fur Rondy to pull it off properly. As for Fur Rondy, Barney said it will continue to support the Big Air Demo, but "if anyone pulls the plug, it will be the city."