Fairbanks offers one of the best vantage points for viewing the aurora borealis.
Alaska tourism is primarily focused on late spring and summer—May through September—when cruises, rail tours and national park visits are the norm. But the state doesn’t hibernate during the winter; on the contrary it has much to offer soft adventure seekers and other heartier souls.
One destination that is actively promoting this aspect of Alaska tourism is the Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau, which recently published its 2013-2014 Fairbanks Winter Guide. The 32-page booklet, available free of charge from the bureau, details winter activities and events and provides an overview of the destination.
For starters, Fairbanks is one of the best places to see the aurora borealis or “northern lights,” experience the sport of dog mushing and view outdoor ice sculptures, while nearby Chena River State Recreation Area affords opportunities for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
The diverse art scene in Fairbanks includes musical and dramatic performances, Alaska Native cultural events, art galleries and museum exhibits. Visitors can also journey above the Arctic Circle to visit Santa Claus.
In the City of North Pole, Alaska about 16 miles from Fairbanks, the spirit of Christmas lives each day. Year-round Christmas decorations, festive street names and light poles and Jolly Old Saint Nick are some of what visitors will find in Santa’s village. Clients can buy postcards and letters to mail from there so that friends and family can receive mail postmarked from North Pole, Alaska. Each year, the community starts the holiday season with a candle lighting ceremony and tree lighting event along with its festive Christmas in Ice sculpting celebration, which runs from November 30 through January 5. Other events on the Fairbanks calendar include:
February 1-10: 2014 Yukon Quest 1000-mile International Sled Dog Race. As is the case in even years, the race begins in Fairbanks and ends in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada. It runs the reverse course in odd years.
February 27-March 1: The 41st annual Festival of Native Arts incorporates Native dance, music, and traditional arts of primarily Alaska Natives, as well as other cultures from the continental U.S., Russia, Japan and Canada.
March 16-22: Fairbanks 2014 Arctic Winter Games: International competitions include skiing (Alpine and cross-country), ice skating (figure and speed), hockey, curling and dog mushing, as well as several indoor sports. There is also a cultural component including visual arts and dance. For details, visit http://awg2014.org.
Accommodations in Fairbanks include a variety of bed-and-breakfasts, cabins, hostels, lodges, motels and hotels. For clients seeking the comfort of familiar brands, there are two Best Western properties, a Hampton Inn, Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites and the Millennium Alaskan Hotel.
About 360 miles south of Fairbanks, Winterlake Lodge near Anchorage is expanding its winter adventures when it opens for the season January 2014. Guests typically take advantage of the roadless backcountry for guided dog mushing, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing excursions. This winter, a new overnight snowmobile excursion will follow the Iditarod National Historic Trail from the lodge down the trail through Rainy Pass. Guests will stay overnight in a rustic cabin, where they will be served hot meals before returning to Winterlake Lodge the following day. Snowmobile training is provided, allowing guests with no prior experience to participate.
The Within the Wild Adventure Company will finish building a remote upscale cabin about eight miles from Winterlake Lodge in early 2014, opening up another guided overnight adventure for guests. Given the option of traveling by dog sled, snowmobile, cross-country skis or snowshoes, adventurers will spend the day trekking to the cabin. Guides offer training to all guests before departing Winterlake Lodge to ensure they have proper skill levels.
Cross-country skiers can take the Winterlake Lodge’s helicopter for guided day trips to nearby Wolverine Mountain, where guests have access to trails with varying degrees of difficulty. Trips vary in length depending on the group’s experience and skill level.
The Winterlake Lodge kitchen supplies all meals for guests on these extended excursions, which is run by lodge co-owner and Chef Kirsten Dixon and Pastry Chef Mandy Dixon. Lodge chefs offer cooking classes or serve up hot cocoa and cookies for guests who want to stay indoors. Complimentary yoga classes, massage therapy, an outdoor hot tub and a wood-burning sauna are also available to guests.
Agents can reach out to Carl Dixon ([email protected], 907-274-2710), co-owner of Within the Wild.
Skiing and More
About 40 southeast of Anchorage in Girdwood, Alyeska Resort is preparing for the ski season, which gets under way on November 28 and runs through April 27, 2014. The resort is offering a “Ski & Stay Package” that includes deluxe accommodations at The Hotel Alyeska, one-day lift ticket per adult and $30 resort credit to be used during their stay from $239 per night, based on double occupancy. A four-night Ski Alyeska package, starting at $465 per person comes with three-day lift tickets for each adult and breakfast each morning. For even more time on the slopes, a six-night version with four days of lift tickets costs $642.
One highlight of the ski season is the New Year’s Eve Torchlight Parade, which lights up Mt. Alyeska on the evening of December 31 as skiers and snowboarders ski down the mountain in formation with flares. A fireworks show immediately follows the parade.
Spring Carnival at Alyeska Resort (April 11-13, 2014) takes advantage of the long days with extended hours of lift operations, excellent spring skiing conditions and a variety of lively and fun events.