Alaska: the paradise of winter activities

Sunset on the Iditarod, Yukon River, Galena,
AlaskaPhoto: State of Alaska/Chris McLennan

Alaska is not only an unspoiled place full of natural beauty, but also an ideal place to practice winter sports, whatever your level. Winter here can offer much more than you can image.

Alaskans have not only made peace with winter but have begun to celebrate it, organizing festivals, dog sled races and much more.
Because winter in Alaska lasts much longer than summer and getting used to a “white version” of this extreme land is the best thing to do if you live here.


Aurora borealis

Aurora borealis near Galena, Alaska
Photo: State of Alaska/Chris McLennan

The Northern Lights typically occur a hundred kilometers above the earth’s surface and can have different colors: the most common is bright yellow but blue, purple and red patterns can also be seen.

When to see it

The Northern Lights are best seen during the winter but it can happen to spot some northern lights as early as August. The aurora is very active during the autumn and spring equinoxes, i.e. September / October and March / April with greater probability of seeing late at night. Keep in mind that many hotels in Alaska offer some kind of alarm clock dedicated to the northern lights to warn you when the lights are off (and to be able to see those outside better).

The best conditions

Ideal conditions for observing the Northern Lights require a clear and possibly moonless sky. Never forget that temperatures almost always drop below freezing, so if you go out to admire, photograph or watch the northern lights show, you need to cover up to stay warm.

How to increase the chances of seeing the aurora

The activity of the Northern Lights increases with that of sunspots. The most recent peak, known as the solar maximum, occurred in 2013.
The University of Alaska at Fairbanks has created a kind of auroras forecast with which you can check the arrival of any northern lights in the area.
If they are reliable we cannot tell you.
But you can check for yourself and let us know.

Where to see it

While it is possible to see Northern lights in several parts of the United States, there are optimal conditions that make some areas of Alaska better than others. The first factor that is almost necessary to admire the Northern Lights is the proximity to the North Pole. The further north you go, the more likely you are to admire this colorful spectacle. There are also some areas of Alaska with frequent low pressure systems and, consequently, of strong nocturnal cloud cover which makes it difficult to sight the aurora. Cities also produce artificial lights in the environment that can interfere with those of the Northern Lights. For this reason it is recommended to move to the suburbs to admire the lights and colors of the aurora more clearly.


Sledge dogs

Sled dog racing is the national sport in Alaska. People come here from all over the world to watch the most famous races:
The Iditarod is probably the most famous race in Alaska and one of the best known in the world. It runs from Anchorage to Nome.
The Yukonquest is Alaska’s other long-distance ride.
Among the medium-distance races there are the Kuskowim 300, the Copper Basin 300 and the Tustumena 200, as well as several sprint races that take place in conjunction with the winter festivals.
In summer, however, many kennels offer tours along beaten paths to allow visitors to get to know sled dogs firsthand and experience the thrill of sled dogs.

The Dog mushing is divided into three main categories:

Sprint mushing: sled dogs are trained to run as fast as possible from less than 3 km up to about 20 km. In this specialty, light sleds are used and, unlike long distances, it is not necessary to bring camping gear or other material to spend a lot of time around.

Long distance:in this case the dogs train to cover very long distances. And it must be said that these super-athletes show great endurance! The mushers organize the races in order to let their dogs run by allowing the same rest time in the same time as those spent in the race.
The running strategy must be well planned in the most important competitions. The middle class can usually be up to 300 miles (482km approx), while races like the Iditarod can go up to 1000 miles (1609km approx) and take up to 12 days of racing.

Recreational Mushing: if on the one hand there are those who practice this sport for glory and success, on the other there are also those who love to do it for pure fun or to pass the time. In Alaska, there are small kennels that have 2 to 20 dogs that take advantage of local trails maintained solely for mushing.
The Two Rivers community just outside Fairbanks has the highest concentration of dog teams in the world and other mushing hot spots that include Willow, north of Wasilla, and the Kenai Peninsula.

Another popular recreational activity for dog lovers in Alaska is skijoring, which involves skiing pulled by one or two dogs. There are many skijoring competitions during the winter, and recreational dog mushers often participate in both sports.

Winter sports

Skijoring, cross-country skiing pulled by dog, Fairbanks
© State of Alaska/Brian Adams

In Alaska, winter sports are a way of life. All winter sports lovers at any level can find the right environment here.


Skiing / snowboarding

Juneau’s Eaglecrest Ski Area and Girdwood’s Alyeska Resort are top resort and snowboard-based skiing recreational destinations. Locals find plenty of opportunities to ski on the Anchorage ski lifts in the Hilltop and Alpenglow ski area in the Arctic Valley and in Fairbanks at Mount Aurora / Skiland and Moose Mountain. Those who prefer the backcountry choose Thompson Pass near Valdez, Palmer’s Hatcher Pass, and Kenai Peninsula’s Turnagain Pass.

Cross country skiing

Cross-country skiing is accessible in many Alaskan communities, be it the beaten track or the mountain areas with no trails. Anchorage’s Tony Knowles Coastal Trail can be a good place to start as it has well-maintained and groomed trails, as well as Anchorage’s Russian Jack Springs Park and Hillside Trail System. Fairbanks cross-country skiers can enjoy Birch Hill Recreation Area and the University of Alaska Fairbanks Trail System. Let’s not forget the Eaglegrest ski area and the Hatcher Pass for example, all areas where you can rent cross-country equipment, if you are unable to bring it with you.

Eliski

In Alaska, you don’t need to be an expert skier or snowboarder to heli-ski. Sport consists of off-piste skiing, be it skiing or snowboarding. You can access pristine slopes by helicopter rather than by ski lift. The season runs from late winter to spring, from February to April which are the periods with the best snow conditions. Daytime hours are the best because they ensure greater safety for the helicopter flight. The most popular areas in Alaska to practice heli-skiing are the Prince William Sound Communities of Valdez and Cordova, Girdwood in South Central Alaska, and the Inside Passage Communities of Hines and Juneau.

Snowmobiling

In Alaska, snowmobiling is often the ideal way to explore the most remote wilderness. Here numerous tour operators offer both guided and non-guided treks to help tourists explore on board one of the most common means of transport in these parts.
Some great places to snowmobiling are Fairbanks, Denali National Park and Preserve, Talkeetna, Valdez, Haines, the Mat-Su Valley, Girdwood and the Kenai Peninsula.
A curiosity: if you hear about “snow machines” , don’t panic!
It’s just a vulgar way of calling snowmobiles around here ..


Winter festivals

Spectator dressed for the cold, dog mushing, Open North American Championship, Fairbanks.
© State of Alaska/Brian Adams

Alaska winter festivals are fun, whimsical, and surprising.
The Fur Rendezvouz Festival di Anchorage it is only the beginning of the activities that start at the end of February and go on until the departure ceremony of the Iditarod which takes place in the city center.
Softball with snowshoes, a snow sculpture competition, the traditional Inupiaq, a set of Inuit dialects and languages spoken by the Inupiaq people of Alaska, then throwing the blanket and many other interesting events that take place in these days in Anchorage
The most fearless can choose to dive into the icy waters of the Polar Bear Jump which takes place every year in Seward. If you are in Fairbanks you absolutely cannot miss the World Ice Art Championship, where you will find ice sculptures for a few weeks sculpted by artists from all over the world. If you arrive at the beginning of the festival you may be lucky enough to see the sculptures being created!
For all other events visit: TravelAlaska.com


Useful sites and numbers for your trip

State of Alaska
www.travelalaska.com/media
Telefono: (800) 327-9372

Alaska Dog Mushers Association
www.sleddog.org
Phone: (907) 457-MUSH

Explore Fairbanks
www.explorefairbanks.com
Phone: (800) 327-5774

Visit Anchorage
www.anchorage.net
Phone: (907) 276-4118

Source and photos : travelAlaska.com

%d bloggers like this: