The Fur Rondy Festival is a significant part of the history and tradition of Anchorage. In the mid 1930's, Anchorage was just a small town of about 3,000 people that stretched between Park Strip and Ship Creek. There were no televisions, malls or movie theaters, no video games, ipods or computers, not even an Iditarod! Winters were brutal and stoking fires, shoveling snow and surviving the elements was the basic daily pastime in those days.
Vern Johnson, the father of the Fur Rendezvous, was a likeable, outgoing Anchorage citizen with a keen understanding of social conditions. He and his friends decided to establish a 3-day Festival to coincide with the time that the miners and trappers came to town with their winter's yield. It began as a three-day sports tournament on February 15, 16 and 17, 1935 and featured skiing, hockey, basketball, boxing and a children's sled dog race down Fourth Avenue. Nearly the entire population of Anchorage turned out for the bonfire and torchlight parade.
Since then, the Fur Rendezvous has earned national and international notoriety, and visitors from throughout the world descend on Anchorage every February.
Despite the passage of time and a multitude of modern diversions, Fur Rendezvous remains a highly anticipated time of year. There are still many Fur Rendezvous events that have withstood the test of time and continue to maintain their unique character. The Official Rondy Fur Auction has been a staple of the Festival since the beginning and the Festival was named in large part to the economic importance of the Alaskan fur trade. Given that the fur trade was Alaska's third most valuable industry in those days, incorporating the industry into the celebration was a logical idea. The Blanket Toss, an ancient Native Alaskan tradition, joined the Festival in 1950. Native Alaskans were flown into Anchorage from Nome and the Little Diomede Islands to participate in the Blanket Toss and to showcase their captivating tribal dances.
The World Championship Sled Dog Race debuted in 1946 and has become the cornerstone event of the Festival bringing teams of sled dogs and mushers to Anchorage from across Alaska and all over the world. The World Championship Dog Weight Pull began in 1967 as a bet between two dog owners to see whose animal could pull the most weight. Four decades later, dog owners are still competing against each other for the cash, notoriety and the illustrious World Champion title for the event. Other traditional Fur Rondy events include the Rondy Carnival, the Grand Parade, the uniquely Alaskan Original Men's Snowshoe Softball and the Grand Prix Auto Race, one of the oldest street races in North America.