When we decided we’d be spending our first winter in Alaska, we made the claim: no one should come visit us in the winter in Alaska.
Mainly because we live in a 300-square-foot cabin with just enough room for the 2 of us.
But also because … it’s winter in Alaska (regular 25 below temps, lots of snow, need I say more?).
And then we decided Justin’s mom (Leanne) should come for a visit!!!! Long story short, she survived! Not only survived, but actually really enjoyed her visit to Alaska in the winter!
The key piece for survival: we were bunny/cat sitting, and the owner encouraged us to either stay at her house (with running water) while she’s gone, or to have guests stay. So we timed Leanne’s visit with the availability of a house equipped with a real toilet & shower. She actually stayed in Alaska for 5 days, and we split some time between Fairbanks and Healy.
While in Fairbanks, we drove up to Chena Hot Springs, visited the 2020 World Ice Art Championships, showed off the Pipeline and watched the Banff Mountain Film Festival US Tour (seeing it in Fairbanks marks our 8th different location to watch the films since 2010).
Chena Hot Springs is a world-renowned resort just over an hour from Fairbanks. Gold miners discovered the natural hot springs in 1905, and proprietors developed it into a resort shortly thereafter. The water discharges at 165 degrees, but they moderate the temperature throughout the big pool. We drove up for the day and enjoyed a soak. Justin had visited back in 2003 during the summer, but hadn’t been back since, and I’ve never been. There’s obviously a “coolness” factor to a winter visit.
We also visited the Aurora Ice Museum on Chena’s property. It started as a temporary exhibit, but people loved it so much, they made it permanent in 2015. It stays 25 degrees inside year round, but was actually warmer inside than outside for us! (We should also note, it was a very typical chintzy tourist trap, not the hot springs itself, just the ice museum).
As for the World Ice Art Championships, ice sculpting is a regular “spring” activity for Alaskans. The competition in Fairbanks started as a one-week event in 1990. Now, it spans the month with 3 categories–single block, double block & multiple block. More than 100 artists from around the globe report for duty, while it attracts thousands and thousands of people for the viewing.
Ice for the event is harvested from the river in big blocks (1700 pounds each!!) from a private property owner. It is so clear, it is referred to as the arctic diamond. The single block carvers have 48 hours to complete, while the multiple block competitors have 72+ hours (ex: I read that one creation used 9 blocks and took 132 hours).
In Healy, we gave Leanne the grand tour of our favorite spots. Oh wait, nothing is really open in the winter! So we showed her our grocery store, gas station, 1 bar and of course, Justin’s favorite national park of all time (Denali).
We balanced our inside and outside play time, making sure we didn’t freeze her out. The moose, the sun and the mountain were out, and the temps hovered around 0, so with the right equipment, it was totally bearable!
Can’t say that a winter visit will always be successful, but we all thought this one was great!