Alaska is a winter dreamland
While most visitors are familiar with Alaska’s summer landscapes, there’s no getting around the fact that the snow-covered version of our surroundings stays with us a bit longer. Fortunately, Alaskans don’t just make peace with winter – we celebrate it! Many visitors would be surprised to discover that our winter temperatures are comparable to many places in the “Lower 48.” Alaska boasts near-limitless winter adventure options, with activities ranging from dog mushing, skiing and winter festivals galore. So why not come up and experience Alaska the way the locals do – on skis, under the northern lights, soaking in an outdoor hot spring or racing down a snowy trail behind a team of sled dogs.
The aurora borealis, also known as northern lights, occur about 60 or 70 miles above the earth’s surface —about 10 times higher than a jet aircraft flies — and can extend hundreds of miles into space. The most common color displayed is a brilliant yellow-green, but the aurora borealis can also produce red, blue and purple patterns.
Dog mushing is the official sport of Alaska. Visitors travel from around the world to witness Alaska’s famous sled dog races, including the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race (which will be held on just the Alaska side of the border in 2021). Many sled dog kennels offer tours, providing visitors an opportunity to learn about and experience dog mushing firsthand – on a sled dog excursion atop a glacier or along a groomed trail.
Alpine sports in Alaska are a way of life. Whether you’re simply looking for a good workout and beautiful surroundings, or you’re a thrill-seeking, deep-powder addict, Alaska has an experience for everyone.
Juneau’s Eaglecrest Ski Area and Girdwood’s Alyeska Resort are the main downhill recreation areas for resort-based alpine skiing and snowboarding. Locals find plenty of opportunity for lift-serviced skiing in Anchorage at Hilltop Ski Area and Alpenglow at Arctic Valley the newly opened Skeetawk in Hatcher Pass and in Fairbanks at Mount Aurora/Skiland and Moose Mountain. Those that prefer the backcountry enjoy terrain at Thompson Pass near Valdez, Palmer’s Hatcher Pass and the Kenai Peninsula’s Turnagain Pass.
Cross-country and backcountry skiing is easily accessible in just about every Alaska community, whether it is on groomed trails or trackless mountainsides. Anchorage’s Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, part of which is in Kincaid Park, is a popular place to start with groomed trails and maintained tracks. Also in Anchorage are Russian Jack Springs Park and the Hillside Trail System. Cross-country skiers in Fairbanks can enjoy Birch Hill Recreation Area and the University of Alaska Fairbanks Trail System. Eaglecrest Ski Area is also the right place to find groomed Nordic trails for both cross-country and skate skiing in Juneau. The Kenai Peninsula, Hatcher Pass in the Mat-Su Valley and many other areas offer groomed trails and peaceful winter landscapes for cross-country skiing. Rentals are available in many communities, so make a great workout part of your Alaska winter vacation!
In Alaska, you don’t need to be an expert skier or snowboarder in order to heli-ski. The season runs from late winter to spring, February through April, a time with prime snow conditions, increased daylight hours and safest flying conditions. The most popular areas for heli-skiing in Alaska include the Prince William Sound communities of Valdez and Cordova as well as Girdwood in Southcentral Alaska and the Inside Passage communities of Haines and Juneau.
In Alaska, no wilderness is too far out of reach to explore and a snowmobile is often the best way to get there. Numerous tour operators offer both guided and unguided treks into the backcountry for riders of all abilities. Some excellent snowmobiling locations include Fairbanks, Denali, Talkeetna, Valdez, Haines, the Mat-Su Valley, Girdwood and the Kenai Peninsula. Oh, and if you do go snowmobiling in Alaska, don’t be confused if people start talking about snowmachines – that’s the local vernacular for the backcountry machines.