Fur Rondy survives another year

Donation from city keeps Anchorage's winter festival afloat

Posted: Wednesday, October 04, 2006

ANCHORAGE - Anchorage's winter festival will get a $48,000 city donation to keep it alive another year.

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Fur Rendezvous has been dogged by debt, mired in a city-led makeover, shaken by board turnover and criticized as a relic from a different era.

The city threatened to take over the 71-year-old festival and make it part of a new festival called Winter Fest, but when those plans did not come together, city officials approved the gift to Fur Rondy.

"We're moving forward," said Susan Duck, the festival's new director.

Between Feb. 24 and March 4, sled dog races, fireworks and snow sculpture are planned. Events such as the masked ball and the Rondy Grand Prix have been dropped for cost reasons. Others will depend on turnout, sponsorships and volunteers.

Mayor Mark Begich wants Fur Rendezvous to change into Winter Fest, an all-encompassing February festival that would include the start of the Iditarod sled dog race, the Tour of Anchorage ski race and other sporting activities. There already are Winter Fest events planned, including a snow maze downtown that will be held during this winter's Rondy.

Over the years, Fur Rondy slowly lost participants to other diversions. Record warm winters also foiled events, from snow sculpture to dog races. Greater Anchorage Inc., the nonprofit organization that runs it, lost money.

The city conducted a survey to find out why the festival was failing. More than 80 percent of survey respondents said they thought the festival was important but fewer than half attended events.

"It's an old-fashioned concept from another generation, and it needs a face lift," said Ivan Moore, who conducted the survey.

Organizers pushing the Winter Fest idea could not decide who should be in charge and what the festival should look like. Rather than have no festival, the city decided to fund Fur Rendezvous again.

Duck said she will guide the festival through the transition.

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