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5 Reasons to Visit Alaska In the Winter

When most people think about Alaska, they think the following: cold, mountains, cold, bears, more cold, a certain ex-governor, and…cold.  Because of this not-entirely-inaccurate impression of my beloved state, most people come to visit the Last Frontier in the warmer summer months.  And really, why wouldn’t you?  But for those of us who call this spectacular place home the rest of the year, I want to let you Go Girls in on a little secret: Alaska is awesome in the wintertime.

One of the advantages of a state this big is how distinct and unique the weather can be in each of our different regions.  Along the coasts, we enjoy huge snow falls and milder winter temperatures.  In Alaska’s interior we enjoy plummeting temperatures and breathtaking northern lights.  There are travel adventures for every kind of intrepid traveler.  So put on a sweater, call your travel agent, and start planning your Alaskan vacation with these 5 reasons to visit Alaska in the winter!

1.  Snow, Snow, and More Snow

imageWhen you think Alaska, you think snow – and rightly so.  Alaska is blessed with six to nine months of snow every year, ranging from heavy sleet and slush to deep, glorious powder that would make any ski fanatic drool.  Valdez and Haines both boast spectacular snow and heli-skiing opportunities, while Anchorage is the training ground for Alaska’s Olympian skiers.  With several ski resorts throughout the state and miles of trail in most communities, any ski or snowboarding junkie can find something to suit their tastes.

Our yearly blanket of snow also provides an unexpected treat: a reflective surface for those starry and moonlit nights.  With short daylight hours in the depths of winter, snowy adventures by headlamp or moonlight give our winter months a special magic you have to experience to appreciate.

2. Skip the Crowds

With approximately one person per square mile in Alaska, this state is rarely what you would consider “crowded.”  However, the summer months can create long lines of cars stuck behind motor homes on two-lane highways, hordes of tourists stopping to gawk at moose, and high prices for fishing charters, airfare, and more.   Winter in Alaska means almost zero tourists, lower prices on activities, and having most attractions to yourself.  Sure, some popular places are closed in the winter months, but a creative traveler can always find a way to have the experience they are looking for.  Using websites like Couchsurfing and Craigslist and reading online local papers will help you connect with locals, learn about upcoming events and activities, and score a cheap (or free) ride or accommodation.

3. Aurora Borealis

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Photo of the northern lights by Tom Redington.

Many people hear about the aurora borealis, more commonly called the northern lights, and ask: Just what are they?  The aurora is a natural phenomena created by solar particles hitting Earth’s atmosphere and interacting with our magnetic field.  They occur throughout the year but are visible to the human eye most often in the dark and cold months of the year around the poles of our planet.  Alaska, specifically interior Alaska, is one of the most outstanding places on earth to watch these magical lights, and winter is the time to do it!  The northern lights can appear in green (most common) purple, pink, and red (least common) and are known to “dance” across the sky in giant waves of color.  You can Google the aurora forecast to predict your chances of seeing them  (Weather is a factor, too.) and plan your trip up north for a light show you will never forget!

4. Extreme Cold

Alaskan winters vary widely by location; southeast Alaska experiences frequent rain and above freezing temperatures in January, while interior Alaska may see temperatures drop below -40F!  Many people think they aren’t cut out to handle such cold, but visitors are often surprised by how bearable frigid temps can be with the right clothing.  Plus, there’s a certain magic to a falling mercury; -40F is a silent world where boiling water evaporates instantly and hoar frost clings to everything.  Our planet is an incredible place with a huge range of temperatures and climates.  Think of Alaska’s frozen climbs as just another extreme to explore, experience, and marvel at.

5. Dog Sleds, Fishing, and More

Just because it’s cold doesn’t mean Alaskans spend the winter indoors!  The wintertime visitor can experience a huge host of outdoor activities.  Winter is the on-season for dog mushers across the state, and an intrepid tourist can get a private tour via dogsled with the right musher. Ice fishing and ocean fishing for winter king salmon are also popular, and Alaska has an ever-changing menu of fresh-caught seafood as the fishing seasons extend into the cold months.  Skiing, snowboarding, ski-jouring (skiing while being pulled by a dog), snowshoeing, surfing (yes, really!), and fat tire biking are all examples of fun outdoor winter activities that await you in the northland.

Still not convinced? Check out the Go Girl Travel Forum on Facebook to ask questions of other ambitious women who have traveled the colder places of the world. Whether you’re a dedicated sun worshiper or have never been north of the Tropic of Cancer, 2014 is your year to see Alaska in the snow!

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