Alaska appears to be growing in popularity. According to MMGY Global’s 2017 Portrait of American Travelers, 22 percent of respondents considering a domestic vacation expressed a desire to visit the state. That’s the highest such number Alaska has posted since 2013. That interest is consistent across all age groups, a nod perhaps to the great variety of experiences Alaska offers, including cruises, wildlife excursions, heli-biking and heli-skiing, and even culinary tours. Here are some of the most recent developments on The Last Frontier’s tourism front.
Heli-biking and Heli-skiing
Tordrillo Mountain Lodge near Anchorage has become the first outfitter in the United States to offer heli-biking, an experience that enables mountain biking access via helicopters to millions of acres of mountain terrain in Alaska’s Tordrillo Mountain range. To make this experience possible, the company invested in the country’s first Aero Quick Design Release helicopter bike rack, which can transport bikes without the need to disassemble them for the flight.
With this new equipment, four bikers, an experienced guide and their bikes are flown into the mountain range from the lodge’s helicopter pad and are ready to hit the trails in just a few minutes. The heli-biking routes begin from the Mt. Spurr volcano and follow paths carved out naturally by the volcano’s deposits, though the experience is customizable. Some bikers may choose to forge their own paths or follow gentle ridge lines to alpine lakes; others can bike directly on a glacier. Riders can choose a descent or ascent of any length or difficulty, making the experience accessible to anyone, no matter their level of skill or expertise.
As the heli-biking season winds down (it will resume next summer), the lodge is now accepting reservations for its seven-night Heli Ski packages, which begin February 16. Tordrillo and Winterlake Lodge, 30 miles apart, are partnering to offer these helicopter-assisted adventures to skiers and snowboarders. Limited to only eight guests per week, the packages include 10 hours of helicopter use, two Tordrillo Mountain Lodge guides, private cabins at Winterlake Lodge, all meals from the kitchen of award-winning chef and Winterlake co-owner Kirsten Dixon, and air transfers from Anchorage.
Priced at $13,500 per person, the package also includes alternative activities for guests to choose from, such as cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing and dog mushing. Guests can also make use of the hot tub and sauna, yoga classes, massage treatments and bar at the Winterlake.
Iditarod and ‘Fur Rondy’
A highlight of every Alaska winter season is the world-famous Iditarod Sled Dog Race. Alaska Railroad has a four-night package that puts visitors at the race’s starting line in Anchorage for opening ceremonies and to watch the sled teams take off. It also includes the annual Fur Rendezvous Festival (known to locals as “Rondy”) and a full-day rail journey into Alaska’s winter backcountry. Dates are February 28-March 3. Tour price of $365 per person double does not include air fare, meals or optional tours.
In keeping with its mission to explore exotic destinations through local culture and cuisine, Access Trips has announced its first-ever culinary tour to Alaska. The eight-day programs are set for May 16, June 23, July 28 and August 25, 2018.
Highlights include learning from and cooking alongside a two-time James Beard Award-nominated chef as well as with a renowned Cordon Bleu chef / cookbook author; going dogsledding with an Iditarod musher; exploring Alaskan culture and wildlife, including up-close viewing of Kachemak Bay marine life such as whales, sea lions, porpoises and various species of birds; flight-seeing or hiking in Denali; and visiting the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.
Tour packages start at $5,990 per person. In addition to the above named activities, it includes double-occupancy lodging; all breakfasts, four lunches, and two dinners (including the meals prepared in cooking classes); guided tour of Kahiltna Birchworks Factory, all transportation within the itinerary and group airport transfers in Fairbanks and Anchorage.
Alaska Cruise News
CLIA’s most recent Travel Agent Cruise Industry Outlook Report, issued just last month, notes that more than 80 percent of travel agents say their cruise volume has increased in 2017, with half of them indicating that Alaska is seeing the most growth.
American Cruise Lines has cited the increased demand for cruise travel to the state as motivation for doubling its capacity by operating a second ship in the region. The line’s newest ship, the 175-passenger American Constellation, will set sail for Alaska next summer, with special access to Glacier Bay from the National Park Service.
Complimentary pre-cruise hotel packages are available for all voyages departing from Juneau, Alaska. Itineraries for American Constellation will range from eight to 15 days, with ports-of-call in places such as Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, Petersburg, Kake and Glacier Bay. For every stop along the way, the line will have complimentary guided tours, as well as onboard historians, naturalists and local experts.
After a two-decade absence from the region, Windstar Cruises will sail once again in Alaskan waters in 2018. The line’s Star Legend embarks on three new itineraries with eight sailing dates from May to August, including a 14-day Seward (Anchorage) to Vancouver option and 11- or 12-day reverse itinerary, and 12-day Vancouver round-trip sailing. Windstar also plans to offer pre- and post-cruise land excursions. Enabled by its small size, the ship will sail right into Misty Fjords and Kenai Fjords, as well as Tracy Arm. Naturalist / expedition Leaders on all voyages will customize the experience for guests along with speakers from Native American tribes.