Rondy kicks off with new events, old favorites

Matt Sullivan
Teams faced off for the Rondy Yukigassen tournament on the Delaney Park Strip last year. Teams try to capture each other's flag in Yukigassen, a snowball fight competition that originated in Japan.
MARC LESTER / Anchorage Daily News
Outhouse racing at Rondy.
Photo courtesy of Rondy

Now a 77-year-old winter tradition, another Fur Rendezvous is on the horizon.

Nothing says Alaska quite like a below-freezing whirl on the Ferris wheel at the Rondy Carnival.

Those sorts of only-in-Alaska events have come to define Fur Rondy. Old favorites like the carnival, fur auction, blanket toss, World Championship Sled Dog Race, snowshoe softball and the snow sculpture competition are still popular cornerstones of the 10-day festival, but for me, it's the additions made in recent years that keep things exciting.

Here are details on a couple of those new favorites, plus some old ones I never pass up.

Running of the Reindeer

Dreamed up five years ago by Bob Lester and Mark Colavecchio, two morning radio show hosts at KWHL, the Running of the Reindeer is Anchorage's answer to the derring-do in Pamplona, Spain. While the animals giving chase in our Spanish counterpart's Running of the Bulls might be decidedly less docile, ours are certainly more adorable.

To watch your fellow Alaskans race down Fourth Avenue to avoid getting trampled by these cute critters, stake out a spot between H Street and E Street well before the 4 p.m. starting time Saturday, March 3. This one draws a big crowd.

If you're looking to test your mettle against these precious four-legged wrecking machines, registration is $25 and open now until the 3:30 p.m. the day of the race. The money collected from registration benefits Toys for Tots and includes a T-shirt for participants. Bib pick-up for the race is 6 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursday and Friday, March 2, at Rondy Headquarters (400 D St., Suite 110) and 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Saturday, March 3, at Platinum Jaxx.


Imported from Japan last year, Yukigassen pits two teams of seven players against one another in a competition that combines Capture the Flag and a good old-fashioned snowball fight.

The teams, wearing helmets and face guards, do battle on a snowy, rectangular field that's checkered with defensive shelters. The game is divided into three three-minute periods, and a team wins each period by either capturing the opponent's flag on the other side of the field or eliminating all opposing players by hitting each with a snowball. Each team gets 270 snowballs made by a machine before the match, and after getting pegged with one while standing on the sidelines last year, I can tell you they sting.

Rondy organizers said that last year's competition was the first sanctioned Yukigassen tournament in the United States since the sport began in Sobetsu, Japan. The winning team in the Rondy tournament's men's division is eligible to represent the U.S. at the World Yukigassen Championship in Japan. Last year's winner, Rumrunner's, wasn't able to make the trip to this year's World Championship, which happens in Japan during the first weekend of Fur Rondy.

Interested in being the first to represent the U.S. on the Yukigassen world stage? Then hopefully you've already claimed your spot -- registration ended this past Wednesday. But if you're looking to take in the action -- and risk getting pegged by a stray snowball -- this year's tournament has moved from the Park Strip to Hilltop Ski Area (also home to the mattress races and ski jumping).

The new location will allow for concessions and easier parking, plus a snowmaker that can be used to make snowballs, said Fur Rondy executive director Susan Duck. Organizers also hope that Hilltop can become a permanent home for the event that will allow the possibility of expanding a Yukigassen league beyond the Rondy dates.

The games take place 10 a.m.- 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Outhouse race

Outhouse races aren't unique to Alaska, but the Fur Rondy contest is the second result in a Google search on the topic (we're gunning for you Fittingly, the Alaska one claims to be the largest.

Teams of five place their portable potties on skis, pulling and pushing them in head-to-head, double-elimination tournament, with each outhouse and team member decked out in whatever ridiculous décor and outfit they can imagine. Each outhouse is also required to have a rider supplied with a roll of toilet paper.

At this point, all eligible teams have already registered and competed in the time trials to determine seeding on race day. Awards include trophies for the grand champion, best theme, most colorful, people's choice, cleanest, most realistic, best engineered, best architecture and a red lantern for the slowest time. Funds collected from registration benefit the Architecture and Engineering Club at UAA to assist Habitat for Humanity.

The race begins 4 p.m. Saturday downtown, between E Street and F Street. Again, you'll probably want to claim a good spot early.

Rondy Melodrama

Now in its 22nd year, the annual Rondy Melodrama is by no means a newcomer to the festival, but it does promise something unique to each year's Rondy. This year that comes in the form of "Alyeska Jones and the Viking Crypt."

Written by Chera Boom and directed by Tim Tucker -- who also collaborated on an original song for the show -- the Indiana Jones spoof tells the story of Alyeska Jones, who's in a race to uncover a 1,000-year-old Viking secret before the villainous Odin the Obnoxious does.

As usual, the show features the talents of the Alaska Sound Celebration, an a cappella chorus comprised of female singers from Anchorage and the Valley. Tickets are available through Centertix ( or 263-ARTS) - $18 for general admission, $23 for reserved seating, with discounts for seniors, youth and military.

Performances take place at Snow Goose Theatre, 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 1 and 5 p.m. Sundays, today through March 10.

Fur Rendezvous schedule
More Rondy news
By Matt Sullivan
Anchorage Daily News