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Call of the Wild

February 12, 2007 By: Jennifer Merritt Travel Agent

Alaskan hoteliers bring people and nature together

El Capitan's pier

If you have a client looking for an affordable vacation
brimming with nature and wildlife, consider North America's equivalent to
Africa's Botswana: Alaska. In fact, if you
book the right lodging, your clients may not even need to leave the hotel to
experience the moose, grizzly bears and luscious landscape Alaska is most famous for.

Three hotels—two opening just this year—are centered on that
very idea of experiencing the nature of Alaska
within steps of one's guest room: Alpine Lodge, Chugach Wilderness Lodge and El
Capitan Lodge.

A rendering of Alpine Lodge, which is scheduled to open on May 1

The Alpine Lodge, located in Fairbanks,
is opening its doors for the first time May 1, the start of Alaska's peak travel season. Near Fairbanks International Airport, the 115-room, three-story
hotel is the "bear cub" of General Manager Yvonne Temple, a veteran
of such properties as the Grand Denali Lodge at Denali National Park in Alaska.

"I wanted to bring the beauty of the wilderness inside
a hotel," Temple
says, and so she inlaid bear tracks in the floor and brought in copper salmon
to swim in a pebble river located in the front desk reception area. What Temple left outside is
pollen, dust and smoke, thanks to a specially crafted air filtration system at
the property. "In the summer we get so dry," she says, "so we
designed the filtration system to filter out 70 percent to 80 percent of the
pollen, dust and smoke." Alpine Lodge is also a non-smoking hotel.

Hotel amenities include such standards as king- or queen-size
beds and cable TV, as well as perks like free wireless Internet access,
complimentary breakfast and an outdoor spa. "We're trying to target the
FIT market and independent travelers during the summer and the corporate and
business travelers in the winter time," Temple says. The largest room at the Alpine
Lodge is more than 600 square feet and has a spa and kitchenette. This
property, which is billed as a luxury hotel, is not on the nearby Chena River,
but rooms 222, 326 and 324 have the best views of the lake. For the month of
May, the Alpine Lodge is running a special rate of $99 per night. Beginning
June 1, standard rates ranging from $199 to $250 will apply during peak season.
All bookings receive a 10 percent commission.

Chugach Wilderness Lodge

Over at the Chugach Wilderness Lodge in the Chugach
Mountains, about 200 miles northeast of Anchorage,
guests should expect a more rustic experience. With a maximum occupancy of 10
guests, Chugach Lodge consists of main quarters and five freestanding cabins
that sleep two to four people. Each has its own wood-burning stove—that's
right, there is no electricity on the premises. "Everything runs on
propane," says Bo Maurer, the property's co-owner and general manager. "There's
no electricity, but you would never know it. We have generators, there are
lanterns in the cabins and we have hot water, so you can still take a hot
shower. We have a wood-burning sauna and all the meals are cooked as if you're
staying in a hotel, but you're just surrounded by wilderness."

Chugach Wilderness Lodge during the winter

As such, Maurer says every cabin has incredible views.
"All the cabins have a 360-degree view of the mountains, regardless of
which one you stay in," he says.

The biggest appeal of the property, according to Maurer, is
the unique experience of staying at a fly-in only camp.

After arriving in Alaska,
guests must drive northeast for four hours along Richardson Highway to the town of Glenn Allen, where they
will take a 30-minute air taxi to the Chugach Wilderness Lodge. "The views
in are unbelievable and there's a good chance you'll see wildlife just on the
flight in," says Maurer.

Rates for June through September are $3,000 for seven
nights, inclusive of meals, lodging and the air taxi from Glenn Allen.
"We're willing to work with people's schedules and break up the trip, but
due to the logistics of getting here, it's just not feasible to come in for a one-night
stay," says Maurer. Agents should call Chugach Wilderness Lodge to discuss
commission rates.

Maurer describes his property as having two main markets.
"We have people that are outdoor enthusiasts: the people interested in
hiking and camping," he says. "Then there are people that are more
into the wildlife viewing. They want to get up in the morning, have breakfast
and then go out and look for wildlife and take pictures."

Campers near the Chugach Wilderness Lodge,

A similarly rustic experience can be found at El Capitan
owned and operated by the Van Valin family since 1988. An hour by
float plane from Ketchikan,
the sport and fishing property averages 97 percent repeat business year after
year, a pretty impressive feat given the hotel's remote surroundings.

El Capitan Lodge sits on the west side of the Prince of
Wales Island in the southeastern Alaska
panhandle and consists of one main lodge and three guest cabins. No one cabin
is better than the other, says Nani Van Valin, co-owner and wife of El Capitan's proprietor, Scott Van Valin. "It keeps
everyone happy," she says. "We're set back in the cove and the cabins
wrap around."

Van Valin is quick to dismiss the property as rugged.
"It's rugged in the sense that it's remote and all of our guests fly by
float plane to the lodge, but we have a higher-end clientele," she says,
noting that a three-day stay is $2,900 per person and agents earn 10 percent
commission on all bookings. "Guests go out fishing all day and on the
boats they are provided with lunches—the only thing that is rugged is the Porta-Potty
on the boat."

An El Capitan cabin, great for fishing trips

El Capitan offers gourmet
dining, cable, 24-hour power and wireless Internet. "There isn't phone
service in every cabin and there is no cell phone service because of the
location, but there is a phone in the bar, along with satellite TV," Van
Valin says.

Perhaps more of a draw than the accommodations are the
fishing excursions. Scott Van Valin has his pilot's license and flies guests
out to the lake to fish for salmon, halibut and to fly fish. Freshwater fishing
is all catch and release, Van Valin says, but saltwater catches are cleaned,
cut and packed by staff so guests can take catches home with them.

As with all these lodges, Van Valin advises early
reservations, since El Capitan can be 90
percent full by the end of the summer season in September. Some days in July
and August are already at capacity at the Alpine Lodge and Maurer says
availability at Chugach may be scare come August, when the colors of Alaska's tree leaves
start to change. Just about the only thing you won't get to see at these
Alaskan properties is snow, with the exception of the Alpine Lodge, which is
open year-round. "You might get an occasional snowfall in September, but
we're usually pulled out of there by then," Maurer says.

And really, snow is probably the last reason to book a
vacation to Alaska.
"I just feel like Alaska is the most
beautiful of all places," says the Alpine Lodge's Temple. "It has a great synergy, and
though it's the United
, for most people that come to visit
here, it's exotic for them. That's what makes Alaska unique."

Contact Information

The Alpine Lodge
Agent Liaison:
Yvonne Temple, 907-455-4413 or [email protected]

Chugach Wilderness Lodge
Agent Liaison:
Bo Maurer, 303-570-0348 or [email protected]

El Capitan Lodge
Phone: 800-770-5464
Agent Liaison:
Nani Van Valin, 360-850-0036 or [email protected]

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