Fairbanks Alaska in Winter
Perhaps what surprised me most about visiting Fairbanks, Alaska in winter was how fast I became – more or less - acclimated to sub-zero degree temperatures. “It’s only -15? That’s all?” I thought on my third day there as I prepared to set out for the day.
On a winter day, you may have the whole place to yourself, unless you are lucky to see an owl, hare or moose. (Careful with those temperamental moose, though.) The satisfying crunch that my boots made on the snowy paths and the occasional falling of snow from a distant branch were the only sounds to be heard in this peaceful place.
In 1966 it was converted into a park, wildlife refuge and host of community events. On weekends the trails at Creamer’s Field attract cross country skiers and skijorers. For the uninitiated, skijoring combines cross country skiing with dog sledding. Skijoring competitions are a lot of fun to watch and sometimes take place at the refuge.
When you do set off under the command of a skillful musher (mine was from Alabama of all places), it is all business; the dogs take their job very seriously. If you have dreams of Iditarod glory, try a one-day mushing class. Check out Dog Sled Adventures for more. Having inspired thousands of cardio machines in gyms across the planet, one of the best work outs that they say you can get is cross country skiing.
Regardless of the activity, Beaver Sports (www.beaversports.com) is the one-stop shopping place to go to rent or purchase all your equipment, inquire about classes and get all the information you need. Downhill skiing is also possible, but the area isn’t known that much for its slopes.
Check the not-for-beginners Moose Mountain and Mt. Aurora Skiland (www.skiland.org), proudly having North America’s northernmost ski lift. Fort Wainwright also has their own small ski resort – Birch Hill. If your legs are tired after a long day of slogging away on skiis – or if winter sports to you means comfortably sitting in the stands with a beer in hand - check out the Ice Dogs, Fairbanks’ pro hockey team () or the UAF Nanooks (www.alaskananooks.com). What is a Nanook, you ask? It’s a derivation of an Esquimo word for polar bear.
It is also home to the Museum of the North, which is a Fairbanks must see. Looking like a giant, igloo, the museum has a permanent exhibition which tells the cultural and natural history of the largest state in the Union. (There’s also an eight foot tall brown bear.)
There is always something going on at the campus, especially on weekends. For an evening of music, for example, check out a performance of the Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra (www.fairbankssymphony.org) at the Davis Concert Hall. For a more grungy experience, head to the nearby community of Ester and have a beer or two with locals in one of their famed saloons.
The Fairbanks area is one of the best places in the world to get a glimpse of them, but you should check the UAF northern lights forecast page (www.gi.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast) before heading out into the crisp night.
Lodge staff can arrange to wake up guests in the middle of the night if there has been a sighting. For some, the Lights are the sole reason to come all the way to Fairbanks in wintertime. This is especially true for Japanese visitors.
For accommodations besides Wedgewood Resort, the Westmark Hotel in the scruffy downtown is a popular choice and the Minnie Street Bed and Breakfast. And a word or two about dealing with the temperatures: be sure to hydrate, be careful with alcohol use, do not stay out for prolonged periods of time and, from the department of the obvious, dress warmly!
Originally from the Emerald Coast in Northwest Florida, Andrew Dier currently lives in Bogota, Colombia where he has written about the city for various publications – and he also translates from time to time.
Read more articles about Alaska on GoNOMAD
Like this on Facebook: