Saturday, February 23, 2013

Tips for attending the downtown Fur Rondy events

I know what you’re thinking. This tip sheet would have been a lot more helpful a couple of days ago. Well, now you plenty of time to plan for next year. It is Fur Rendezvous time in Anchorage and that means lots of events all over town for a couple of weeks. If a previous downtown Rondy experience left you disenchanted or you have never gone, you’ve come to the right place. Read on!

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1. It is always, always cold at Fur Rondy. Somewhere between 0 and 20 Fahrenheit. Plan accordingly. And for new Alaskans, “accordingly” does not mean a hoodie, jeans, and cheap fleece gloves. I’ll spell it out for the sake of the kids: snowsuit or snowpants and warm coat, hat, gloves or mittens (see number 4), warm snow boots. Optional: neck gator, scarf, snow skirt, warm non-cotton socks, long underwear, sunglasses.

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2. There is always a cold wind downtown for the parade and dogsled race. I promise. Sometimes the wind is very bad (2012) and sometimes it merely makes things a little colder (see number one). If we ever get a Chinook (warm wind) for Rondy, I promise to turn to dust.

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3. Please leave your dog at home whilst attending the World Championship Sled Dog race. It says that right in the official Rondy brochure, page 48, under the “Be a Good Spectator” section, and I quote “Your pet dog will not enjoy watching sled dog racing events. A fast moving team will frighten most dogs. They are also a distraction to the racing or training dog team. Do not bring your family pets to dog mushing events.

I am seeing more and more people bringing dogs to this event, so the Rondy organizers may want to promote this tidbit more prominently than a burial on page 48. I happened to be on hand for an instance today (2013) when the dog athletes got distracted by dog couch potatoes, and it was dramatic. Check out the pictures below for a team that decided to go off the trail and visit a dog that was barking at them. The quick thinking by the trail monitor in yellow saved this musher some time sorting things out by himself. The purse for this race is $70,000, so you can imagine that the sprint dog mushers dearly want to take home a piece of that pie.

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4. If you are bringing young children who are not walking themselves around the festivities, bundle, bundle, bundle. Those fleece gloves from Old Navy are not going to cut it with the stationary set. If the kids are strapped to your chest, riding a sled, carried, or in a stroller they will be colder than you. You are walking around working up a sweat, they are motionless, getting cold.

Alaska is “mind your own business” country, but I did break this old adage a few years ago when, milling about the dog race spectators, I spotted a very young infant with exposed hands. The (who I assumed to be) parents were facing away from the child in an infant seat stroller, quietly wailing in the frigid temperatures. I tucked a blanket over the kid and told (who I assumed to be grandma) that the baby looked cold. She stepped in and took charge of the underdressed baby.

Unfortunately, I see cold children every year at Rondy. Here’s a lifelong Alaskan’s take: if you can only invest in one really nice outerwear item for your kids and everything else has to be cheap, let your investment be gloves, or even better for young children, mittens. (Knit gloves or mittens just don’t count, except maybe as something to wear inside the “real” mittens.) If their hands are cold, especially young kids and infants that haven’t figured out pockets or speech in complete sentences, they will be suffering from the cold and you will be miserable trying to placate their crying. You can quote me.

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5. Watch the dog races from Cordova Street. That is the best kept secret around. Milling around 4th and D Street to watch the start is fun if you are tall like me. If you are petite or a child, heaven help you if you show up after the race starts and expect to see anything. It is really crowded at the start. Just walk down the street ‘til you hit Cordova and turn south. There! You have a whole street to yourself. The kids will love it, and will actually see something. You’re welcome.

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6. Plan ahead. Downtown is pretty much a nightmare for driving on the Saturday of the race and parade, so leave early, pack light, and park far away. I took my own advice and parked on 15th Avenue this year. That might be taking things a little too far, but I got a great walk out of it and didn’t have to battle road closures, police cruisers everywhere, and confused traffic patterns.

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7. If you brought kids, bring a backpack or bag. In mine this year: an extra set of gloves for all, a scarf, and some snacks and water for the kids. Sometimes I put in hand warming packets if it’s a particularly cold year or a particularly whiny child.

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8. The parade is about a 1/2 hour. Why this fact is not more publicized, I’ll never know. And while normally I don’t advocate spending lots of time in shopping malls whilst clad in full winter gear, after the parade is over, duck into the 5th Avenue Mall to warm up. Another plus, the mall has a bathroom and your kid has to go. You can hang out until the dog races start around noon or until you can’t stand the kids begging for another pretzel with cheese.

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9. If you have young kids and watched the parade and dog race, do yourself a favor and save the carnival and snow carving competition for another day. They are ongoing every day for all of Fur Rendezvous (this year February 22-March 3). If you do not choose to heed this warning, I will not be responsible for the adult and/or child meltdowns that occur.

These tips are guaranteed to cut down on the whining and increase desire to return next year and do it all again. Which is good, because what else is there to do at the end of February in Alaska? Go Rondy!


Been to Fur Rondy? Have a tip of your own?


  1. I could do the same tips for the summer Day's of '76 Parade in Deadwood. #1 bring earplugs so you don't hear the whining tourists who can't comprehend that Deadwood only has one street through town and it will be closed for 45 minutes. The world won't end. Sit and enjoy a parade then be on your way. They never do. They always drive off to go back to Rapid (50 minutes away) then back to the interstate, another 45 minutes. Just so they don't have to sit and watch a 45 minute parade.

    1. Earplugs to drown out the noises of whining? That is brilliant! And has the added benefit of blocking out people talking really loudly on their cell phones.


  2. Sounds to be a good day out. I don't think I'd survive that level of cold though - even in our winter temperatures I've been known to have just eyes peeping out of a mass of clothing especially when Martyn takes me to stand around for an hour waiting for a steam train that we just have to catch some photos and video of!

    1. I'm usually 95% covered up for winter activities. Down jackets are a life saver as well as really warm boots. This year I biffed it and forgot my neck warmer. It didn't feel right asking one of the kids to give me theirs;)

      Martyn has a very understanding companion in you! My hobbies require no standing around, mostly just hunching over (gardening, etc.)


  3. Thank you for the tips! I skipped this weekend because of the huge crowds and waited until 8 to watch the Anchorage Symphony, but these tips (specifically Cordova st.) will insure that i go next year!

    1. Oh, you caught the Symphony? I'm sure that was much better, and with the added benefit of being indoors! I love dressing up for a concert, in fact, I'm chaperoning a dance for high school kids this Saturday and can't wait to don my ball skirt and sequin top. I don't get many chances to go hog wild with formal wear here in Alaska.

      Glad I convinced you to try Cordova Street, it really is so much more enjoyable than the snarl at the start.


  4. I had a feeling that seersucker and a jaunty Panama was a bad choice for Fur Rendezvous but, there you go, style over functionality let me down again.

  5. Never been but after seeing the photos I would love to go. The happy faces on those racing dogs makes me smile.

  6. Um, thank you Christine for reminding me how much I love Oregon rain. The idea of cold babies makes my heart hurt. Too many people aren't very smart and methinks if you're going to live in Alaska, you need to take the weather seriously.

  7. How I miss the those snow. Really fun to play with. Great pictures you have there. Love that fairy tale concept on a parade. So youthful.


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