For the first time in about a year, a large-scale festival is happening in Anchorage.
Fur Rendezvous looks different this year. There’s no sled dog race, no Running of the Reindeer or Miners and Trappers Ball. But some activities were scaled back instead of canceled, and organizers said they worked with state and municipal health officials to make Rondy safe.
“Overall, we had to look at our events in a critical manner and with caution,” said executive director John McCleary. “We have to provide that safe experience and look at what’s happening in the Anchorage community.”
For many folks, McCleary said, Fur Rondy’s two weeks of events are bringing a sense of relief and normalcy during an exceptionally stressful year. The festival has also brought a bump in business to downtown stores and restaurants that have been hard-hit during the pandemic, according to McCleary.
“Last weekend, the restaurants and shops downtown were all packed to their COVID capacity levels. ... Rondy is the bridge for many restaurants and downtown businesses to make it through the winter and into the spring,” he said.
Last year, the festival provided one of the last glimpses of normalcy before COVID-19 reached Anchorage and started a wave of shutdowns and pandemic precautions that would change everyday life for the next year.
When organizers began preparing for the 2021 festival back in June, McCleary said, everything was uncertain. Plans for this year have been fluid.
To provide better distancing, there are roughly half the vendors this year that were at the Native Arts Market last year. Five competitors — compared to 10 last year — were scheduled for Saturday’s Outhouse Races at Westchester Lagoon. (While the event wasn’t set up to accommodate spectators, McCleary said, crowds cheered from the bank of the lagoon.)
Organizers of the Frostbite Footrace received the green light from the health department just weeks before the race and didn’t advertise the event, McCleary said. About 100 people participated.
The challenge of hosting Rondy during a pandemic comes on top of financial challenges that could place the future of the festival in jeopardy — but McCleary said he’s hopeful that fundraising efforts will succeed.
It’s been painful for McCleary to see some of the biggest and most popular events paused or scaled back, but part of the pain has stemmed from the financial impact.
The festival began fundraising in December out of concern that the anticipated drop in revenue this year could lead to financial devastation that could end the events entirely. While McCleary said the festival will go on next year, the organization is far from finished grappling with financial woes.
The cancellation of many of the most popular events led to a steep decrease in revenue. Other events have been altered to be free.
Fundraising has been slow so far, and Fur Rondy is just one of many organizations that are struggling this year, McCleary said. Rondy is essential to the community — now more than ever, he said.
“Before, people were thanking us for doing such a great event,” he said. “Now, the thank-yous have some personal aspects of, it’s so great that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Events will continue throughout the weekend, with an outdoor concert at Town Square Park on Friday, a cornhole tournament and family skating. A full schedule of events is available online.
Cornhole Icebreaker Tournament: Try your hand at cornhole — also known as corn toss, bean bag toss or soft horseshoes — at this free tournament. (While you’re there, you can check out the competition before the Sunday championship.) 7-10 p.m. Friday at the Dimond Center.
Blizzard Bash: Check out Nothin’ But Trouble at a free, outdoor concert on E Street next to Town Square Park 7-9:30 p.m. Friday on E Street next to Town Square Park.
Reindeer lottery: The actual reindeer are staying home this year. In place of the annual running is a lottery, with a chance to win admission to the Williams’ Reindeer Farm in Palmer, free entry for the 2022 Running of the Reindeer in downtown Anchorage or $50 gift cards. To see all the rules on participating, go to furrondy.net. $20 per ticket. 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Family skate + Rondy critters: The family skate is from 1-4 p.m., with Rondy critters making an appearance on the ice from 2-3:30 p.m. Saturday at Westchester Lagoon. Free.
Cornhole championship: Compete for cash prizes from $25-$350 and a plaque. $50/team of 2; $25/singles tournament. 10 a.m. Sunday at the Dimond Center.
Alaska State Snow Sculptures Competition: Sculptures made from 8-foot cubes of compressed snow will be on view from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. through Sunday at Ship Creek Ave. (across from Comfort Inn). Winners have already been announced, but it’s been cold enough that the sculptures should still be in good shape.
Fur Rondy Amateur Photo Contest: Winners and finalists will be on display throughout the Midtown Mall through Sunday.
Fur Auction: Week two of the auction is running online through 6 p.m. Sunday at alaskapremierauctions.com.
Charlotte Jensen Native Arts Market: Alaska Native baskets, dolls, beading, carving and more will be displayed and on sale at the Dimond Center. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and Noon-5 p.m. Sunday.
Virtual Melodrama: Alaska Sound Celebration presents “Gold Rush Greed in Grizzly Gulch,” streaming online at 7 p.m. through March 14. Minimum donation of $10. See alaskasoundcelebration.org for details.