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Story and photos by Vicki Andersen   December 1, 2011

  Alaska Mountains  
  Alaska, one-fifth the size of the continuous United States, is blanked by over half the world’s glaciers, covering more than 28,800 square of our northernmost state  

Alaskan winters are long and cold, and can be lonely for the far-flung residents of the 49th State of the U.S. Back in the latter 1930s, some ambitious folks decided to organize a get-together, both to stave off winter’s dreariness and to celebrate the beginning of the end of winter. Envisioned as a way to bring all residents of the Anchorage area together, the first event included hockey and basketball tournaments.

Soon, purveyors of Alaska’s second leading industry—fur trading—took note that this gathering was the perfect occasion for a rendezvous: meet directly with buyers of their goods, do some replenishing of supplies, and have a heck of a good time while in town. Welcoming these participants, organizers added trapping contests and prizes for the longest and finest pelts, and as time went by more activities were embraced.

While the country slogged through World War II, it was deemed unseemly to continue these celebrations. Revelry bloomed again in 1946, and now folks were coming from Fairbanks, Juneau, even as far afield as the Pacific Northwest just to partake of the festivities. More events were added to the burgeoning calendar including a Miners’ & Trappers’ Ball, the Rondy Melodrama, and the World Championship Sled Dog Race. A fireworks extravaganza now back-dropped the crowning of the Rondy Queen.

As I progress from one event venue to another, I am amazed at the hardiness and ingenuity of our northern brethren and their assortment of diversions both comical and admirable. The Snow Sculpture Competition showcases talented artists who work their magic on massive piles of snow, leaving a wonderland of sculptures glistening in the winter sun. A trio of life-size dancing polar bears, St. George and his slain dragon, and frolicking penguins are evidence that winter hasn’t dulled these creators’ sense of humor.

  Iditarod Sled Dog   Iditarod Team Robert Bundtzen  
  Few critters match the excitement and hope of a sled dog who thinks he’s soon to be snapped into a harness Robert Bundtzen placed 40th in his very first attempt at the “Last Great Race” in 1995  
  Iditarod Team Wattie McDonald Handlers  
  Team Wattie McDonald’s handlers proudly display this Scotsman’s tartan (as well as his sled dogs!)  
  I hear the barking and shouting of hundreds of eager athletes from many blocks away long before I see them, their voices and eyes begging to be part of the team entered into one of the World Championship Sled Dog Races. Perhaps one of the biggest events at the Fur Rondy is the Ceremonial Start of the Iditarod, “The Last Great Race.” While the official start of this grueling competition takes place a few days later north of Anchorage, today’s Ceremonial Start showcases the driver, teams and handlers, providing a rare chance for fans and supporters to watch these hearty souls, two- and four-legged. If Fido is overlooked for the race, perhaps he can compete in the World Championship Dog Weight Pull, straining with all his might to move that weighted sled just a few inches further than any of his canine buddies.  
  Fur Rondy Blanket Toss   Fur Rondy Blanket Toss  
While the Blanket Toss originated as a way to propel hunters high into the air so they could spot game across the vast horizon, it only takes a few feet of “air” to excite youngsters at the Rondy Carnival
  It seems everyone has turned out for the Rondy Grand Parade, after which I join the throng making its way to the Carnival. Children are flung into the air on the Blanket Toss, made of sewn seal hides. With no need to scan for prey in Anchorage, the goal for mature jumpers is to be tossed as high as possible and return to the blanket without falling over. A bit of showmanship while in the air draws hearty cheers from the crowd.  
  Fur Rondy Vintage Snowmobile Fur Rondy Vintage Snowmobile  
The Vintage Snow Machine Parade brings some real treasures out into the light of day
  Many indigenous people gather for the Multi-Tribal Gathering, show off their arts, crafts, and tool-making at the Native Arts Market, and enjoy the Rondy Yukigassen, an Alaskan version of a snowball fight, teams strictly adhering to time-honored rules.  
  Fur Rondy Fur Auction Fur Rondy Fur Auction  
It’s as much fun to watch participants in their “furry” attire as it is to watch pelts being offered at the Rondy Fur Auction

Modern fur trappers haven’t been forgotten as the Fur Rondy moved into the 21st Century. They still flock to the State Hide & Horn Auction and the Rondy Fur Auction to find buyers for their goods. At the end of the week, many of them can be found bellied up to the tables of the Texas Hold ‘Em Tournament of Champions.

Alaskans put a new flair on cultural events when they costume-up for the immensely popular Miner’s & Trapper’s Ball, don elaborate creations to attend the Masque Ball, and guffaw themselves silly with slapstick and comedy at the Melodrama.

True to its beginnings as a sports tournament, the Fur Rondy still includes Snowshoe Softball tourneys and a Frostbite Footrace with costumed participants. The seriousness with which Alaskans view their sports are evident in the Outhouse Race and the Running of the Reindeer, a Northern take on Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls. Unlike the bulls, a few antlered critters didn’t seem to know what to make of the mass of humanity trying to “run” with them, and sometimes needed direction to coax them along.

  Chugach Mountains  
The 300-hundred mile long Chugach Mountain Range is the most glaciated range on the North American continent

Heading north at this time of the year, when most folks are dreaming of a more balmy vacation, has distinct advantages. You’ll avoid summer hordes of tourists clogging the roads and sights. You have a good chance of seeing the Aurora Borealis on a clear night. And the locals have had a respite from the high-season hordes and welcome a new face in their midst.

Anchorage is situated in the south-central portion of Alaska with a municipal boundary extending from the head of Cook Inlet to Portage Glacier, a distance of 50 miles encompassing 1,955 square miles, about the same size as the entire state of Delaware. February averages 11 hours of daylight and a pleasant and dry 26º thanks to the moderating marine influence the Gulf of Alaska. Three snow-blanketed mountain ranges circle the horizon: the Chugach, the Kenai, and the Alaska Range—home of 20,320-foot Denali. The combination of mid-sized metropolis and untamed back country offers a wide range activities and attractions for winter visitors.

  Turnagain Arm Dall Sheep Steward Bald Eagle  
Dall sheep along Turnagain Arm
A bald eagle settles in over the harbor in Steward
  Heading south towards Glacier Valley, the road follows Turnagain Arm, the Chugach Mountains rising sharply on the left and the northern tip of the Kenai Peninsula outlined across the channel. Keep an eye for dall sheep and the occasional bald eagle or ice climber. Most impressive is when the bore tide comes churning up the Arm.  
  Kenai Peninsula from Turnagain Arm  
The Kenai Peninsula dominates the skyline across Turnagain Arm
Turnagain Arm’s bore tide is so massive, adrenalin junkies have been known to surf its wave
  Throughout the world there are only about 60 bodies of water who exhibit a tidal bore, where an incoming tide clashes with the normal flow of a river, resulting —in the case of Turnagain Arm—a frothing wall that can be more than six feet in height and moving at 15 m.p.h. It contains the largest tidal range in the U.S., averaging just over thirty feet to make it the second largest in North America and fourth largest in the world.  
  Alyeska Chair 6 Gales Gully Alyeska Resort Tram  
Alyeska’s Chair 6 accesses cruisers such as Gale’s Gully and Prospector
The 60-passenger aerial tram loads just steps from the back door at the Hotel Alyeska
  Alyeska Seven Glaciers View  
The view from the bar at Seven Glaciers Restaurant, perched in the top tram terminal, includes the ridgeline which drops into the North Face territory

Much to the delight of hardcore enthusiasts, Alyeska Resort’s North Face boasts North America’s longest continuous double black diamond run. The chateau-style Hotel Alyeska offers 304 luxury guest rooms and all the amenities you’d expect at a year-round resort destination. Nine uphill transports, including a high-speed quad, three fixed quads, two doubles and two magic carpets access 73 runs covering over 1,400 skiable acres including two terrain parks and a 400-foot super pipe. Alyeska’s 2,500-foot vertical breaks down to 11% Easier, 52% More Difficult and 37% Most Difficult. Snowfall averages 650 inches a year, overlies tundra rather than rock.

Hilltop Ski Area and Alpenglow also have alpine skiing, while Hatcher Pass, Lazy Mountain and Nancy Lake Winter Recreation Areas cater to cross-country folks. The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, skirting the coastline near downtown Anchorage, becomes a 12-mile groomed trail in the winter with panoramas of Cook Inlet, Mount Susitna and the Chugach Range.

  Turnagain Arm from Alyeska Chugach Mountains Snowmobiling  
Nestled in the heart of Glacier Valley, Alyeska Resort’s 250’ base elevation places it among the lowest in the world
This area of Alaska offers endless possibilities for snow machining

“Snow machining” (as our northern brethren refer to it) is very popular, and countless outfitters offer complete packages of machines, clothing and guide services. Envision Alaska in the winter and dog sledding usually come to mind. Whether you’d like to learn more about mushing history or try a bit of gee-hawing yourself, Wasilla is arguably the world capital of this sport.

Grab your ice skates and head for numerous indoor and outdoor rinks in Anchorage, including some lighted for night gliding. Several hills in town cater to sledders, and Hatcher Pass is a popular destination for sledding. The possibilities for snowshoeing are limitless. All it takes is a few inches of snow, which is not hard to find any direction you look. Ski-joring behind dogs is a big pastime in this area, with dedicated trails in Bicentennial Park and Connor’s Bog in Anchorage.

If you’ve a hanker to angle for some rainbow trout or landlocked salmon, some of the “top holes” include Mirror and Clunie Lakes, north of the Eagle River/Chugiak area. Rather stay in town? Great possibilities include Otter Lake, Campbell Point Lake, DeLong Lake, Sound Lake, and Jewel Lake.


Situated in Northeast Anchorage, the Alaska Native Heritage Center provides a focal point for maintaining and sharing the indigenous culture. By perpetuating the language and traditions, especially through their High School Program, you shouldn’t pass up an opportunity to enjoy their dancers. You can locate their performances on the Center’s Events Calendar ( ).

If your idea of a great getaway includes museums and historical attractions, there’s a good week’s worth close-by for you to sample. 10,000 years of Alaskan history awaits you at the Anchorage Museum of History & Art. Aviation buffs shouldn’t miss the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum on the south shore of Lake Hood, the world’s largest and busiest seaplane base.

Anchorage Museum Pipeline Section
The Anchorage Museum displays a section of pipeline, its immense size a real eye opener

The South Central Alaska Museum of Natural History in Eagle River has nearly two dozen displays and dioramas covering the geology, biology, and anthropology of south-central Alaska, including a Fossil Forest featuring dinosaur bones and fossils. South of Anchorage you can learn about the local gold rush history at Indian Valley Mine National Historical Site. In Wasilla visit the Museum of Alaska Transportation & Industry, with ten acres of planes, trains, vehicles, tractors, and tools.

Delve into the geology of Anchorage via interpretive displays at Earthquake Park, which marks the 1964 site where North America’s most powerful tremor, registering 9.2 on the Richter Scale, dumped huge pieces of land into Cook Inlet and destroyed 75 homes.

  Anchorage Moose Resurrection Bay Sea Lions  
It’s common to see moose wandering the winter landscape
Sea lions sunbathe in Resurrection Bay

What would an Alaskan trip be without wildlife? Interpretive displays at the 2,300-acre Potter Marsh wetland highlight animal and plant life at this coastal wildlife refuge. Resurrection Bay abounds with seals, otters, puffins, and bald headed eagles.

A winter vacation in the Anchorage region of Alaska... as incongruous as that may seem, you will never lack for wonderful things to do or wondrous sights to behold. While your friends talk of the same old sand-and-sun type of vacation, you can enthrall them with tales and pictures of a TRUE snowbird get-away: heading north to Alaska and reveling in the snowy opportunities awaiting truly adventurous folks.


Anchorage Convention & Visitors Bureau

Fur Rondy

Alyeska Resort

The MilePost

Regardless of your mode of travel around Alaska, The MilePost provides the nitty-gritty for your journey. It features 30 major routes around the state (which says a lot since the Alaska Department of Transportation estimates only about 4,900 miles of paved road in their state). You’ll find information about attractions, sightseeing, wildlife viewing, lodging, and tips for planning your visit. Check them out at

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