Sunday, February 27, 2011

Fur Rondy (and beyond) - Town Square

Anchorage is a Winter City. We have all of the same issues that other cities have when it comes to making our downtown alive and vibrant, plus the challenges of cold and dark. We need opportunities and events that can help us triumph against our urge to hibernate. This starts to get a bit easier at this time of year, when you can really feel the sunshine! Each day at the moment adds over five minutes to our days (over 35 minutes a week!). There's nothing like getting out and photosynthesizing.

One of our public spaces is adjacent to our Performing Arts Center - Town Square. This gets flooded in the winter for skating, and is the location for annual ice carving. Some people use it for skating during their lunch hours or other times of the day, but this space can really come alive when there are downtown events like Fur Rondy. The daytime photos below are from Fur Rondy, but the night time ones are from around Christmas a few months ago when they had just finished up the ice sculptures.
Clear and sunny... nothing better.
Strings of LED lights on all of the trees.
Fibre-optic lighting built-in for this reason.
Kids playing in a snow labyrinth.
Easter Island
Sundae = cold headache?
Fun lighting adding night-time interest.

Fur Rondy - Winter City Goodness

A great thing about Fur Rondy is that there is probably something for everyone, of any age. We spent our time walking around outside to see things, but as mentioned in an earlier post, there are art and craft sales, book sales, cultural demonstrations... a whole bunch of things to do. Key to success for an event like this is having activities that appeal to all, and I think they might have it covered.

Fur Rondy has stuff happening all over town, but here are some mixed photos of things going on in the downtown areas.
Snow Carving Contest Entrant
Parade - very Alaskan! An Ice Worm...
Sausage stand (yes, some have reindeer in them)
Husky rides available close-by
Surprised to see a kick sled!

Fur Rondy - Outhouse Races

 Not so much description needed for this one... outhouse races...

The starting parade:

And the start of the racing:
Winning strategy? Avoid wrecks (at left).

Fur Rondy - Carnival of Cold

 It was about ten degrees Fahrenheit outside, and the windchill probably had us decently below zero... yet the Carnival kept on truckin'. Just goes to show that if you dress right, play knows no temperature limitations. Well... even if you're strapped into a carnival ride spinning around in the air that's already windy and cold?
Clear sky, 10F and windy.
Extreme fear keeps the cold away a bit?
Whipped around... just like the snow behind.
Looks cold?
It is... (but beautiful!)

Fur Rondy - Snowshoe Softball

Snowshoeing is a wonderfully peaceful way to get out into the snow and plod around. Family or friends, you can listen to the birds, enjoy the sunshine... or risk injury as you flail around on really large platforms.

Snowshoe softball... another of the winter team sports that are available during Fur Rondy. Add snowshoes to any activity, and it's sure to change it pretty significantly. But, adding costumes kind of makes up for the handicap of having snowshoes on, at least you can think to yourself that people are laughing at the way you look... not your ungainly and awkward playing abilities. 

Winter Cities - The Ubiquitous Polar Plunge

With all of the outdoor activities of Fur Rondy (and how many involve costumes apparently), it reminded me of an annual event here to raise money for the Special Olympics - the Polar Plunge. This definitely fits into the theme of how our outdoor events get community out and involved, and can bring us together. Such activities are pretty unique to our northern climates, and I know a lot of communities do have their own polar plunge. It does make me wonder what equivalent activity they might have in hot climates? The Sauna Stayover?

Fur Rondy - Yuki (snow) gassen (battle)

This Fur Rondy post focuses on Yukigassen, which is essentially a sanctioned snowball fight with rules and safety equipment. Yukigassen is a Japanese word which translates to snow (yuki) and battle (gassen). We watched our first ever games yesterday, and it appears to be a combination of dodgeball and capture the flag. The official website for Yukigassen in the US is: and the rules can be fouund here:
Best formed snowballs I've ever seen!
Here's an excerpt that deals with how players are put 'out' of the game:
The following players are called out:
• A player who is hit by a snowball
• A player whose foot crossed an end line or sideline
• A player who is a Forward whose foot crosses his own team’s blue line
• A player who makes an illegal snowball
• A player who hides or carries a snowball inside his or her clothing or penny.
• When two players hit each other simultaneously they are both considered out.
Watching the game was pretty fun. It appears to be a good balance of skill (hitting your target), speed and agility (dodging the hail of snowballs), and strategy (getting someone forward to capture the opponent's flag). Although, it does have the element of dodgeball... and our childhood fear of being the one always targeted first might leave us paralyzed on the field...

This tournament was the first sanctioned US tournament, and the winners have the ability to go to the international tournament in Japan. We hope that Yukigassen catches on around the US to a similar extent as something like Ultimate Frisbee has in the summer.

These photos show one of the games that our own Anchorage Parks and Recreation Department played in... putting it on the line... keeping our parks safe from the forces of snowball evil.


Welcome to Fur Rondy - Frostbite Footrace

When it comes to play, part of the equation may be "build it and they will play", but another equally important component is "program it and they will play". Create events and opportunities, and you'll find that your public spaces come alive with people enjoying themselves.

In its 76th year, Anchorage's Fur Rondy (Fur Rendezvous) has emerged as a 10 day long community gathering that spans everything from pancake breakfasts and balls, to hobby shows, to a multitude of outdoor events. From a Winter City and Winter Play point of view, we wanted to share with you some of the (perhaps) unique ways that people of all ages get out and play during the winter.

Frosty beers need cell phones too.

Many of the charity sports events in Alaska seem to draw a section of the populace that finds it a good excuse to dress up funny. With a bit of wind chill, and being about 10F during the race, the benefit of a costume can also be extra warmth. For the Frostbite Footrace, having a costume (and a race bib) also puts you in the running for winning a costume prize (and the actual race also has prizes for how well you do in either of the 2K or 5K distances). For the costumes, the first-place group award went to three Sock Monkeys, and the single-person went to Frosty Cupcake. Oh, and if it makes you want to enter next year, I think all of the entrants get a T-shirt!

(stay tuned for more blog posts on other Winter Play events)

One of the better costumes.

Not a costume... Fur Rondy brings out the best in people in the already weird populace of Alaska.

KISS rounds the corner

If you don't have race bibs... why the costumes???

Sock monkeys normally creep me out...
But these ones were kind of cute...