Alaska Winter Forecast

Recently Travel Agent got a chance to attend a press trip to Alaska as the state's tourism climbed to record heights following the Great Recession. All week we'll be running a special report on selling the state, from top sales tips and trends to what's new for the upcoming winter season.

While the bulk of travel to Alaska takes place in summer, winter still provides plenty for visitors to do. Here’s the latest on what clients can check out in the coming months.

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Chugach Powder Guides will debut their new “Ultimate Alaska Ski Safari.” Beginning and ending in Girdwood, clients will heli-ski on more than 750,000 acres of terrain in the Western Chugach Mountains, with the exact itinerary determined on the basis of local weather conditions. The trip will be available from the end of February until mid-April.

The Alaska Railroad is launching special midweek departures on its Aurora Winter Train from February 24 through March 18. In addition to the regularly scheduled Saturday northbound and Sunday southbound services, the train will also offer northbound service from Anchorage to Fairbanks on Tuesdays and southbound travel on Wednesdays. During the period of the midweek service, travelers can enjoy many special events. Fairbanks offers the BP World Ice Art Championships, aurora borealis-viewing tours and the Chena Hot Springs Resort.

Big Swig Tours is a new Anchorage tour operator aimed at highlighting the state’s growing craft-brewing scene. The tour begins in downtown Anchorage and includes 12 beer tastings, a selection of appetizers and transportation throughout the trip. Notable stops include Midnight Sun Brewing Co., King Street Brewery and Chilkoot Charlie’s. The tours are three and a half hours and cost $110 per person. Winter tours are available with advance reservations.

Two Alaska distilleries—Port Chilkoot Distillery in Haines and High Mark Distillery in Sterling—have opened tasting rooms following new Alaska State legislation that allows such facilities to serve samples to guests and sell their products in limited amounts onsite. Three other distilleries are also planning to open tasting rooms in the near future. The bill, which was signed into law on July 14, went into effect October 12.

The 2015 BP World Ice Art Championship in Fairbanks will take place February 23 through March 29, 2015. It is the largest ice art competition and exhibition in the world, and has taken place in Fairbanks for more than 24 years. Aside from the sculptures, guests will also be able to enjoy a kid’s play park with mazes, slides and a hockey rink, all made of ice.

Steamboat Bay Fishing Club could be expanding in upcoming seasons. // Photo by Steamboat Bay Fishing Club

Winterlake Lodge launched three new excursions in 2014 that will be available this winter. One such trip takes guests via helicopter for cross-country skiing on nearby Wolverwine Mountain. An overnight snowmobile excursion takes travelers around 35 miles of the Iditarod National Historic Trail, with a stay in a rustic cabin. Additionally, guests can travel by dog sled, snowmobile, cross-country skis or snowshoes to a newly built cabin about eight miles from the lodge and “glamp” overnight before returning the next morning. The excursions are included in the lodges’ all-inclusive rates, except for the helicopter, which is an additional cost. The Winterlake Lodge is 198 miles northwest of Anchorage in southwest Alaska.

Speaking of Anchorage, the city will be celebrating its centennial anniversary in 2015 with a variety of exhibits, festivals and other events through next September. Visit anchoragecentennial.org/events for details.

Due east of Anchorage, The Tsaina Lodge near Valdez is debuting new renovations with 24 updated rooms, a restaurant and bar serving Alaska cuisine, a locker room to store winter gear and a spa. The Lodge is 20 minutes outside of Valdez and serves as the home base for Valdez Heli-Ski Guides.

Finally, we hear luxury fishing lodge Steamboat Bay Fishing Club on Noyes Island (access from Ketchikan via sea plane) could be expanding. Right now the property sleeps 16, and a deal could be in the works to add eight rooms. Plans are still in the rumor stage, and nothing has been finalized.

New Airlift

Alaska has also been the recipient of new flights in recent years. Yukon’s airline, Air North, now travels between Fairbanks and Dawson City, Yukon, largely due to Holland America Line’s new Land+Sea Journeys itineraries, which now include a one-hour direct flight between the two cities, as opposed to the previous two-day bus ride.

Alaska Airlines began direct flights between Anchorage and Las Vegas in late 2013, operating three times weekly, year-round.

Delta began offering seasonal flights between Seattle and Juneau back in May, and it has since added an additional flight to its seasonal Seattle-Anchorage route.

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