A winter visit to Fairbanks offers some of the best possible conditions for viewing the northern lights. Here the sky takes on a capricious life of its own—a canvas for the aurora borealis, the midnight sun and sunsets and sunrises that last forever. Here there are serious mountain ranges, pristine rivers and lakes, abundant wildlife, and a certain poignant solitude that is found nowhere else on earth.
Known as the “Golden Heart of Alaska,” Fairbanks is located in the center of Alaska and serves as the basecamp for Alaska’s vast Interior and Arctic. Places situated nearby are Denali National Park, the Arctic Circle, Chena Hot Springs, North Pole, and a myriad of villages, parks, and preserves. Fun activities that take place during the winter months include dog mushing, ice sculpting, snowmobiling, and skiing. Take to the slopes for downhill skiing or snowboarding at any of several local resorts fully equipped with rental gear. If you prefer to stick to flat ground, cross-country skiers and snowshoers have plenty of terrains to explore in the hills around Fairbanks.
Fairbanks is home to the largest ice sculpting competition in the world. The 2021 World Ice Art Championships, to be held at the Tanana Valley Fairgrounds will host more than 100 ice artists, representing 9 countries and the United States. In past years, artists from 45 countries have competed in the World Ice Art Championships. Approximately 45,000 visitors come to the Ice Art Park each year to see these intricately sculpted masterpieces. Sculptors at the World Ice Art Championships use over four million pounds of “Arctic Diamond” ice which is harvested from a lake located adjacent to the Ice Art Park. Ice freezes quickly and thickly in Alaska’s Interior, and is clear enough to read a newspaper through a four-foot thick ice block. Sculptors claim that Fairbanks ice is the “finest on the planet for sculpting.” Each Single Block Classic ice block measures approximately 2.5′ x 8′ x 5′ and weighs around 7,200 lbs. The finished sculptures in the Multi-Block Classic contest can weigh as much as 20 tons and be over 25 feet tall.
In the center of the Ice Art Park there will be a large designated Kid’s Park, which is like any children’s playground, only it is constructed entirely from ice. There’ll be slides and rides for all ages, mazes and life-sized sculptures of animals, and characters to touch and climb on. The Ice Art Park will also feature an “ice stage” for various performances, ice skating rink, ice cabin, ice obstacle course and even a Slide-A-Mile challenge. Competitions will include the Single Block Classic, the Multi-Block Classic, the Individual Open Classic and the Youth Classic for high school students. To learn more about the World Ice Art Championships, go to icealaska.com. >MORE
End of February to end of March
Now in its 17th year, the Denali Winterfest offers loads of outdoor fun and educational events. Featuring dog sledding, a 5K race, snowshoeing, hiking, park ranger programs and more. This engaging community-oriented festival starts off with a potluck and ends with a chili feed and cake walk—small town charm in the heart of Denali National Park.
Runs from August 21 to April 21 and March is prime time for aurora viewing. Fairbanks is located under the “Auroral Oval,” a ring-shaped zone over the far north where aurora activity is concentrated. Additionally, low precipitation in Fairbanks contributes to consistently clear nights. All combined, these variables make the Fairbanks region an outstanding destination for possible aurora viewing. Experience the aurora from a heated “aurorium” cabin, on an overnight sled dog trip, by snow cat tour to a panoramic vista, on a flight above the Arctic Circle, or simply walk outside and look up to see the captivating northern lights weave across the night sky. If the aurora appears in the middle of the night, many hotels offer wake-up calls.
The Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center provides vacancy listings and more information on museums, art galleries, performances and other things to do during a stay in Fairbanks. Also at the center is the current exhibit “Icons of the Iditarod,” featuring official Iditarod photographer Jeff Schultz’s imagery. >MORE