BHBC’s “miners” (left to right), Holly Wells, Lori Brownlee, Sarah Badten, Katie Davies.

Written by:  Lori Brownlee

Late February and early March is a festive time in Anchorage, Alaska.  That’s when the locals celebrate Fur Rendezvous (known as “Fur Rondy”), a winter festival with the dual purpose of commemorating Anchorage’s Last Frontier history and keeping cabin fever at bay.  Fur Rondy started as a three-day winter festival in the 1930’s, and coincided with the annual arrival of the miners and trappers to sell or trade their furs, gold and other goods for money, supplies, and maybe even a bottle or two of whiskey.  It has become one of the largest winter festivals in North America, stretching over 10 days and attracting visitors from all over the world.

Since 1950, one of the signature events of Fur Rondy is the Miners and Trappers Ball. Once held in a drafty warehouse befitting its frontier beginnings, attendees now go to Anchorage’s civic center dressed in authentic costumes reflecting Alaska’s Gold Rush era.  Ball attendees can participate in various contests including a costume contest with categories that range from Gold Rush and Period Costumes to “Anything Goes.”  There’s also a beard and mustache contest for the coveted title of Mr. Fur Face.

In minus twenty degree weather in January, 1972, I arrived from Washington State as a nine-year old with my parents and three sisters. A month later, my parents dressed in moose costumes to attend a party.  It was the Miners and Trappers Ball.  Fast forward four-plus decades; I just attended my third Miners and Trappers Ball with three of my colleagues from Birch Horton; Holly Wells, Sarah Badten, and Katie Davies.  We spent the night dressed as lady miners and our regalia included Carhartt® overalls, fur hats, and XTRATUF® boots.  We mingled with people from all walks of life from Anchorage and beyond. We received many positive comments on our costumes and we were encouraged to enter the costume contest.  While we didn’t win, we had fun and enjoyed the great team-building experience.

I have fond memories of other Fur Rondy events over the years. As kids, my sisters and I would venture to the carnival rides and games downtown and we would stay outside all day, no matter how low the temperature dropped.  As a teenager, I marched in the Grand Parade with my high school band and I can’t count the number of times I’ve watched the world championship dogsled races and starts of the Iditarod race to Nome. For the past five years, I’ve run with the reindeer with my sister Jennifer by my side. I’ve watched the opening fireworks many times, as winter is the best time to see fireworks here.

Alaska is a special place and Fur Rondy is one of the many reasons I still live and work in Anchorage.  Winters can be very long and that’s why Fur Rondy is such an anticipated event for young and old alike. It gives us a chance to kick up our heels and celebrate all things Alaskan and helps us through the last days of winter. I’m proud to work with people who have deep roots in Alaska and I can’t imagine living anywhere else.