Unseasonal warmth takes the 'winter' out of Fur Rondy, but not the spirit

Unseasonably high temperatures took the "winter" out of the Fur Rendezvous winter carnival in Anchorage on Saturday -- but not, as organizers and carnivalgoers said, the spirit.

Families lined the streets of downtown to watch the parade, sled dogs and fat-bikers shared snow hauled in to cover Fourth Avenue and snow sculptors worked furiously against above-freezing temperatures. And fur hats weren't hard to spot, even as Saturday's high was 42 degrees, tying a record for the third-warmest temperature recorded that day by the National Weather Service.

Amid disappointment about the lack of snow, which shortened the sled dog sprint competition, there were silver linings. For the morning "Grand Parade," dry asphalt made for easier walking and driving.

"Usually we're worried about it being too cold, but today is a perfect day for a parade," said Albert Whitehead, who took up his customary spot at the start of the parade with his reindeer, Star -- though, he noted, snow does make Star happier.

At the corner of Fifth Avenue and C Street, East Anchorage resident Ava Corbitt said she wasn't complaining, and it was easier for her grandchildren to watch the parade. Plenty of people showed up, she noted: "You couldn't find parking downtown."

Another crowd of spectators could be found in front of the stage at the Alaska Trappers Association auction, Fur Rondy's go-to outdoor home for bidding wars on a variety of animal furs. One successful bidder, Raul Beano of Eagle River, stood in the crowd with his new lynx fur hat that hung down past his shoulders.

He admitted, it was a bit toasty.


"My back is burning," Beano said with a laugh.

But warm weather is a boon for fur auctioneers, said Tom Lessard, a member of the Alaska Trappers Association -- people stick around longer.

Anchorage resident Renee Price bought a caribou antler and hide at Saturday's auction. She said the warmer weather seemed to be bringing in more out-of-towners.

"There's really good bidding today," Price said.

In hopes of capitalizing on bigger crowds, the trappers association will hold a rare third auction on the Sunday of the official Iditarod start, Lessard said.

A prominent casualty of this winter's higher temperatures was the Open World Championship of sprint sled-dog racing, which officials shortened from a 26-mile course to a 3-mile loop through downtown Anchorage.

At the same time, the cancelation of the longer races also allowed Fur Rondy's first-ever fat tire bike ride to move its starting line from the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail to the more visible location on Fourth Avenue.

The ride, aimed at celebrating Anchorage's winter biking culture along with a downtown expo, drew an estimated 450 bikers -- short of a world record, but still an impressive turnout, said organizer Kathie Merchant. Merchant wanted the ride to serve as a sort of ceremonial start for the Iditarod Trail Invitational, the fat-bike, foot and ski ultramarathon race that follows the Iditarod Trail and starts Sunday in Knik.

Merchant said she couldn't be happier with the way the ride worked out.

"It fell into place," Merchant said, adding that the Fourth Avenue spot helped with the event's exposure.

In the Ship Creek area, however, a different kind of exposure -- from warm temperatures -- was a threat for snow sculptors working to transform dripping blocks of snow into creations before Sunday morning. Instead of chisels, artists were using soft scrapers.

"It's rough, but it's going," said Matt Lloyd, whose team was working on a sculpture called "Salmon-nado" -- a tornado with salmon coming out of it, a riff on the "Sharknado" movies.

"If it's above freezing out, the snow is very unreliable," Lloyd said. "But what are you going to do, you know?"

Another sculptor, George Hyde, was wearing a tan short-sleeved shirt and using gloved hands to pack down mushy snow in his area. He was aiming for a sculpture of the Star Wars characters Han Solo and Chewbacca taking a selfie, and on the bright side, he said, he wasn't "going to get carpal tunnel" from repeated chipping this year.

East Anchorage resident Donia Abbott normally takes her three children to see the snow sculptures on the weekend of the Iditarod start. But she said she rushed her family down on Saturday once they heard the sculptures were in danger of melting.

Standing in between the dripping sculptures, Abbott incredulously gestured to a man standing about 10 feet away. The man was wearing green basketball shorts.

"When I was a kid, you wouldn't come down to Fur Rondy and see a dude here in shorts," Abbott said. "It just blows me away."


She paused and smiled.

"But at the same time you can't stop the spirit of it. It's Fur Rondy. It's an Alaskan thing."

Devin Kelly

Devin Kelly was an ADN staff reporter.