You may not have heard of Fur Rondy. Maybe that’s why you haven’t visited Alaska in the winter time. When you get there you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner. The ten days of the Fur Rendezvous are the highlight of late winter in Anchorage. It also includes the ceremonial start of the Iditarod.
There is something for everyone here. If you’re single you just might meet an Alaskan beauty at the Miners and Trappers Ball. Forget the myth that there are 4 men to every woman. I’m told that it is now about 50-50. The gals I saw were mostly fit, trim and very attractive. I guess all that skiing and snowboarding pays off. There were probably some handsome gents there, too, but I wasn’t paying much attention to them.
Your kids will have more to do than they can keep up with. What little guy wouldn’t enjoy a sled dog ride, a pony ride, the Rondy carnival, family night ice skating, the Frostbite Footrace, the Grand Parade, Snowshoe Softball, pancake breakfasts and lots of other activities? There is a full day set aside called Ski4Kids. Even a fireworks show!
Besides the Miners and Trappers Ball, a great charity event that, over the years, has raised millions of dollars, there are plenty of other nighttime activities. There are more dances than I can recall, including Old Time Fiddle dances, the Jim Beam Jam, the Sourdough Dance, the Fur Rondy Fiddle Dance and who knows what’s happening in a dozen outstanding brew pubs around town?
If you’re an indoor gamer you can try your hand at Bridge, Bingo, Pinochle and Scrabble tournaments. There’s even an Oyster Shucking Contest and a Reindeer Sausage Eating Challenge. I tasted the Reindeer sausage almost daily. It was delicious, but then I love most any sausage so you’ll just have to try it for yourself.
I had only about a week in the Anchorage area and tried to squeeze in as much as possible. In a winter wonderland like this it’s easy to find plenty to do. Since I didn’t have to shovel the snow I could really enjoy it. A day of snow machining (you probably call it snowmobiling) through a vast wilderness area was terrific. I learned that modern machines have great heaters for your hands and with the wind screens it is easy to be very comfortable even at 45 mph. Winding through the trees, up and down hills and over bumps and across frozen streams I got a taste of what it must be like on the Iditarod Trail. But the 5 hours I spent this day were certainly much easier than the 1,000 miles the mushers must pursue. One of the highlights of the day was visiting an enormous ice/snow cave. Truly spectacular!
Probably my favorite day was a long hike into Chugach State Park to find a waterfall that was to be the site of my very first attempt at ice climbing. I wasn’t afraid, but did have some bit of trepidation on the way in. I wasn’t sure if I would chicken out or go for it. Well, as soon as I saw the frozen Ripple Falls I knew I wanted to give this ice climbing thing a try. My guide scrambled up the falls, free climbing and untethered to the top of one section of the falls to set an anchor line. One thing I know for certain – I would not have tried to make this climb without some kind of safety net. For those of you not familiar with climbing, a rope is slipped through the anchor and someone holds one end of this line and the climber is attached to the other. If, or when, the climber slips and starts to fall the person on the other end of the line catches the climber. This is called being “on belay.” I managed to climb o.k. after a couple of false starts. There are several kinds of ice and I tried climbing in each of them.
As exciting as the ice climbing turned out to be I was almost as jubilant about my first helicopter landing on a glacier. We were flying in weather that kept us from going in some directions, but allowed us to fly low enough to spot moose on the ground and to then land on the ice. With the headphones and microphones on we could talk with the pilot as he explained what we were seeing and where we were going. I had originally planned a heli-skiing trip in Valdez, but never made it to that lovely location because of weather concerns. That made this little adventure an even more valuable experience.
Grab your parka and head north for your winter vacation – you won’t have to shovel the snow so go and enjoy it!