Anchorage’s Fur Rendezvous Festival

fur-rendezvous-downtownLets Rondy! In 1935 Anchorage had less than 3000 residents, three friends got together and decided Anchorage needed a festival to coincide with the customary time that miners and trappers came into town with their goods to sell or trade. They recognized that winters were difficult on fellow Alaskans. After-all, the cold winters and significantly more difficult traveling conditions resulted in residents suffering from cabin-fever, a common syndrome for Alaskans who tended to stay indoors and didn’t have the opportunity to socialize or exercise as much during the long, dark winter months.  They named the event, Fur Rendezvous or Rondy for short! Early events included hockey, skiing, basketball, boxing and a children’s dog sled race. Many residents also showed up for the parade and city bonfire. Through the years after the initial Fur Rendezvous new events arose and the event became more and more popular. Since then the Fur Rendezvous has earned a national and international reputation for being one of the best winter events in the world. (more…)

Alaska Tour & Travel Staff Runs with the Reindeer

reindeer-runningThe Running of the Reindeer is one of Fur Rondy‘s newer events – having been part of the Fur Rondy for six years and has become one of the Festivals most popular events. An Alaskan twist to Spain’s “Running with the Bulls” event, over 2000 Alaskans dress up in furs, crazy homemade costumes and antlers. The reindeer come from a farm located just off the Glenn Highway in Butte, Alaska. Before the first year, questions arose as to how the reindeer would react in the big crowds and how are they going to get the reindeer to run the few blocks down Anchorage’s 4th Avenue. Fur Rondy organizers decided to use thirteen reindeer. After much thought the farm decided that if they put one female at the end of the race in a pen that naturally the twelve males they were using would run towards her. It worked! (more…)

Alaska’s Iron Dog Race

iron-dogOne event that my family and I look forward to each year is the Iron Dog sled race. The Iron Dog race is the world’s longest snowmobile race. This is a uniquely Alaskan event that takes place each year just before the Iditarod race. It is 2000 miles and the most difficult and challenging off road snow machine race in the world. It starts at Big Lake just north of Anchorage off the George Parks highway. This year we saw just about 40 teams depart for Nome. The trail follows the coast up to Nome, Alaska and then they turn around and head back to the finish along the Tanana/Chena Rivers into Fairbanks, Alaska. The current record for the race is 37 hours and 19 minutes in 2009.

Drivers compete in two man teams and are required to take three six hour breaks on their way from Big Lake to Fairbanks with a mandatory 48 hour rest in Nome as well. Racers endure temperatures as cold as -57 below zero and that’s not with the wind chill factored in. It’s so cold that the racers will put duct tape around their eyes to prevent frostbite as they are going at rather high speeds. Past racers have described the race and trails as a grueling bone-numbing, face freezing charge North. (more…)

Alaska Cheechako Defined

My wife is turning 50 today, and as often happens with milestones such as these, family and friends have been busy digging out old photos to share. As I rummaged through my closet this morning lo and behold I found the first photos I ever took of her, from June of 1988. She had just arrived in Alaska for the first time a month earlier, and clearly… she was a Cheechako.

Cheechako is a term Alaskan’s often use to refer to folks who are visiting or have recently arrived in Alaska, usually “from the lower 48”. If you come and visit our great state and someone calls you a Cheechako, not to fear, it is a term generally used in good fun. Sure, you may not know what “bunny boots” are or 101 uses for duct tape, but you are welcome just the same.

Back to those pictures. They were taken at the original Birdhouse Bar, a true Alaskan bar that was located in the little town of Bird Creek, on the highway between Anchorage and Girdwood. The bar was situated in an authentic circa 1903 miner’s cabin, which over time had sunk haphazardly into the surrounding terrain. This all had left the floor quite slanted and difficult to navigate, especially after a few beers. It had a number of interesting traditions, such as encouraging patrons to leave a dollar bill, driver’s license or article of their underwear stapled to the ceiling. The one Bird House tradition reserved just for Cheechakos was the “calling of the Ptarmigan” which, by the way, is the official Alaska state bird. (more…)

Our Own Alaska Pilot

Karen Hessert, has worked for Alaska Tour & Travel for over 10 years, and has lived in Alaska for over 20 years.  Last summer Karen decided it was time to fulfill her dream of becoming an Alaskan pilot and late in the year she received her private pilot license.  Karen recently said “as I reached another milestone in my journey I looked back and am amazed at all the skills I have acquired as well as the spectacular adventures I have experienced.  Whether I am at Merrill Air Field doing touch and go’s around Anchorage, going out to the practice fields near Big Lake or going on another cross country trip to Fairbanks, Seward, Soldotna, Gulkana or other areas within South central and Interior parts of Alaska I am reminded each time of the precious scenery Alaska has to offer.  Absolutely stunning views and I have the best seat to witness it all.” (more…)

A Winter Visit to Fairbanks

Last winter my husband had business he had to travel for to Fairbanks, Alaska.  At first the thought of going to Fairbanks in the winter was not too thrilling to me since temperatures can be extreme that time of year but we decided to gather up our family as well as my cousin’s and make the trip north with him.  Fairbanks is just over 300 miles from our home in Chugiak via the scenic George Parks Highway (Hwy #3).  Traveling this road in the summer you will find many activities and places to stop at and visit but in February most services are closed but it is still a very scenic road to travel, regardless of what time of year it is.  The ride up to Fairbanks took us about 7 hours and as we made our approach into the city we were fortunate to witness the Aurora Borealis in the night sky.  It is incredible to see the colorful mysterious lights dancing in the skies.  We do get to see the Northern Lights at our home but as you go further north into Interior Alaska they appear more often.  (more…)

The Iditarod

sousa-dogsled-teamSince I was a little girl I’ve enjoyed the sport of dog mushing as both a competitive musher and a spectator.  Every year one of the biggest dog mushing events in the world is held in Anchorage, Alaska. The ceremonial start of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race begins on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage on the first Saturday each March. The Iditarod Trail stretches over 1149 miles of Alaska’s vast wilderness. The true race begins a day after, on Sunday from Willow, Alaska. This is where you see the mushers dressed in their cold weather gear and their sleds fully packed with food and equipment for themselves, but mostly for the dogs. From my experience as a musher your number one priority on the trail is your dogs. Each dog is treated with great care to assure they are performing at their very best. Imagine what it’s like to care for not just one Olympic athlete but a team of 16. (more…)