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Anchorage, Alaska in Winter? Go for it!

By Nick Anis and Jim Bennett

If your perception of Anchorage, Alaska in winter is that it is a very cold and dark place to visit, you’ll likely be in for a big surprise. Sure, the days in Anchorage do get short, but even the shortest day in late December is still over five hours long. By February, the days are over eight hours long steadily increasing by about five minutes per day. The winter temperatures of coastal Anchorage can be mild compared to the interior of Alaska; or even the northern US. In February, to the surprise of many visitors, it’s possible to find daytime temperatures in Anchorage approaching forty degrees, with overnight temperatures dropping only into the low twenties due to the close proximity to the Pacific Ocean. Even the precipitation is often less in winter compared to the summer and autumn seasons.

With all of this available sunlight and relatively mild weather, it’s no wonder that the Anchorage area offers such a large range of activities during the winter. From flightseeing, to snowmachining (snowmobiling), to dogsledding, to skiing, or even just driving around, there is always something new to do and see. Even if the weather doesn’t cooperate, there are still many wonderful indoor activities to consider.

In mid-February, Anchorage holds it’s annual Fur Rendezvous festival that lasts for ten days, with over 120 different events. Rondy’s main event is the World Championship Open Sled Dog races that begin and end each day in downtown Anchorage. There is a lot of excitement along the spectator-lined streets to watch the dog teams race after hundreds of truckloads of snow are actually dumped onto the streets and graded to make the track out of and then back into town.

Just a few blocks away, adjacent to the Alaska Railroad Depot, there is a beautiful exhibit of snow sculpturing by over twenty participants, some of which are over six feet tall. Elsewhere in town, there are snowshoe softball games, which bring a whole new perspective to the game! Watching the players wearing snowshoes running the bases or fielding the florescent orange softball in the two-foot deep snow-covered field is a hoot. The snowshoes are not quite Nikes for running in and trying to find the ball in the soft snow can be quite a challenge. The list of Rondy’s various events, includes dances, shows, contests and meals basically offering something for everyone.

If you want to try going for a dogsled (or sled dog, as many Alaskans call it) ride for yourself, Mush a Dog Team-Gold Rush Park, twenty minutes north of Anchorage in Chugiak, has just what you’re looking for. This family operated musher offers up to four sleds seating one or two passengers and thirty-seven enthusiastic dogs. Operators, Rick and Carol Drebert, and their children can ensure not only an exciting, but also an educational experience within their twenty-acre park that re-creates many of the historical features of years past.

If your sights are maybe a little higher, you might want to consider one of the many helicopter flightseeing tours from an operator such as ERA Aviation. ERA has over 45 years of experience and is the largest Helicopter Company in Alaska. They have large, comfortable six passenger helicopters that provide exceptional visibility for everyone. If you haven’t flown up a snow-covered valley to come face-to-face with a glacier’s spectacular turquoise-colored ice, you’re missing one of the most exciting views of what Alaska is all about.

The marvelous Alyeska resort is only about 45 minutes from Anchorage in the nearby town of Girdwood. Alyeska is the site of the largest ski area in Alaska with six lifts and a sixty-passenger tram. With a surprising base elevation of only 250 feet and the highest ski run at about 3000 feet, it is possible for you to enjoy an endurance and confront level that is greater than is usually found at the higher-elevation ski areas. There are also opportunities to enjoy Nordic skiing, ice skating, ice fishing and new for this year, heli-skiing.

The Westin Alyeska Prince Hotel, which just opened in mid-1996, is the only AAA four-diamond hotel in Alaska. There are 307 large, deluxe rooms that even include a small refrigerator and wall-safe at no additional charge. The hotel is located at the base of the ski area allowing skiers to actually ski right to the hotel steps. Also in the hotel is a ski shop and equipment rental shop for added convenience. The hotel even offers a Northern Lights wake-up call service to alert guests at night when they are visible.

Maybe you would prefer to spend some time indoors. Anchorage has several malls, a performing arts center and an excellent Museum of History and Art. You could easily spend hours experiencing the excellent exhibits about the largest state in the USA. If you get hungry, the museum even has a nice cafeteria that serves lunch and offers catering for groups.

Speaking of food, if you are looking for some great eateries, there are many to choose from. If you are in search of a moderately priced meal, you can’t miss going to the Glacier Brewhouse on 5th Avenue. Not only is the food preparation and selection excellent, there is also the state-of-the-art micro-brewery at the north end of the restaurant. If you ask, the friendly staff will likely arrange to give you a tour. Also, the General Manager, Chris Anderson went to great lengths to ensure a very warm and visually stimulating environment when they opened last year. From the warm colors and lighting, to the double-sided central fireplace, you won’t feel cold or isolated inside. They even have the kitchen visible to the dining area, which highlights their open rotisserie oven and bright red pizza oven. This restaurant has already become very popular in a short time with both visitors and local residents.

For a spectacular shoreline view of the Cook Inlet and the distant snow covered mountains during your meal, the Simon and Seafort’s Saloon & Grill, on L Street, is an excellent choice. Since 1978, this has been a popular location for special-occasion meals as well as fine dining. The food at Simon’s is also quite good and the prices are reasonable. Senior General Manager, Michael Hurst sees that the high standards that built this restaurant’s excellent reputation are always maintained.

For a higher and by most accounts, the "best" views, there are the excellent restaurants at the top of the Hotel Captain Cook and the Anchorage Hilton Hotel. Their prices are somewhat higher, but they each provide truly fine dining, with an excellent, lofty view from above the city.

If you ask the locals which hotel is the best in Anchorage, they’ll probably tell you that it’s the Hotel Captain Cook. From the doorman, to the beautiful rosewood-paneled lobby and hallways, to the excellent, friendly and courteous staff, this hotel exhibits first-class accommodations throughout. Another plus is the spectacular view of the Cook Inlet and the distant snow-covered mountains from the north and west facing windows.

Anchorage, Alaska in winter is not the cold and dark place you may have thought. In winter, you won’t have to compete with the cruise ship passengers and a flood of summer tourists. The winter rates for lodging can also be considerably lower; and it’s a lot less tourist-ey.

Alyeska Resort
P.O. Box 249
Girwood, AK 99587

Phone:  907-754-1111
Reservations:  800-880-3880
Email: (Gary Scott)

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Email: Nick Anis


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