ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Average winter temperatures here are, well,
pretty cold. It's a far cry from tropical Caribbean beaches.
But, Alaska tourism officials say when it comes to winter
tourism, don't count them out.
This is predicted to be a good year for viewing the northern
lights and, in March, the annual Iditarod dogsled race will kick
off from Anchorage.
To be sure, Alaska's winter season is not going to draw many
clients to agents' doors, but, according to Al Koch, general
manager of Anchorage-based AlaskaTours.com, extreme temperatures
are what some "extreme" clients look for.
"To experience minus 35 degrees to see the northern lights,
that's a big draw," he said.
The best times to see the aurora, according to Matt Atkinson,
marketing coordinator for the Northern Alaska Tour Co., are the
first two weeks of September and the middle three weeks of
"It needs to get dark," he said, "so, potentially, it could be
anytime from the end of August to mid-March."
The Northern Alaska Tour Co. offers excursions from its home
base in Fairbanks to a town inside the Arctic Circle called
Coldfoot, where auroral views, Atkinson said, practically are
guaranteed when the sky is clear.
Atkinson said the aurora borealis has been a major attraction
for years with Japanese tourists.
Now, he said, the winter market is starting to attract U.S.
visitors, especially those from west of the Mississippi River.
Northern Alaska also offers an overnight trip to the
northernmost U.S. community: Barrow, a town of 4,000 people on the
edge of the Arctic Ocean.
Guests are provided with parkas, and Atkinson said local stores
will rent visitors winter gear for daily rates. Commission on the
trips, which start at $564, double, is 10%.
For more information, visit www.northernalaska.com.
The Iditarod begins March 1 from Anchorage and ends 1,049 miles
away in Nome. Tracking the race via plane can be done but is
extremely expensive, according to tour operators.
And since there is no way to predict the finish time, it's
difficult to build a package around it.
But clients can catch the start of the race and then head up to
the town of Wasilla for the "restart" -- a second kickoff to the
AlaskaTours.com's Iditarod package, at $1,539 per
person, double, includes tickets to the annual mushers' banquet
dinner, a behind-the-scenes tour of the Iditarod communications
center, viewing of the Anchorage start, transfers to Wasilla for
the restart and a trip to an Iditarod checkpoint.
The company also offers dogsled tours in which clients can
participate. One eight-day tour takes beginning mushers to the
Brooks Range above the Arctic Circle. That tour starts at $2,350
per person, double. The tours are commissionable at 10%.
And, as one operator pointed out, dogsled races happen nearly
every winter weekend.
Clients who want to fly into Alaska for a winter vacation might
want to time their trip to coincide with the annual Fur Rendezvous
in Anchorage, a two-week-long winter carnival now in its 68th
Although tour operators and "Fur Rondy" officials say the
festival draws more Alaskans than out-of-state tourists (Alaska
Airlines offers a discounted rate for travel within Alaska to the
event), it can be coordinated with other trips -- perhaps with a
flight upstate for aurora viewing or skiing on Mount Alyeska.
The Fur Rendezvous starts Feb. 14 with fireworks and its
"official" kick-off party, the Jim Beam Jam. New to the festival
this year is a Cajun/Creole dinner with live blues music.
In addition, the World Championship Sled Dog Race takes place in
Anchorage during the festival.
Tickets for some of the events can be purchased on www.tickets.com. Hotel
deals are available; ask for the "Rondy Rate." For more
information, call (907) 474-1177.
Next year, an event spokeswoman said, the Fur Rendezvous will be
shifted to later in the month and will coincide with the Iditarod
Hotels with fur rendezvous deals
Phone: (888) 506-7848
Anchorage Marriott Downtown
Phone: (800) 228-9290
Anchorage Grand Hotel
Phone: (888) 800-0640
Best Western Barratt Inn
Phone: (800) 221-7550
Diamond Center Hotel
Phone: (866) 770-5002
Phone: (907) 550-7000
Phone: (800) 245-2527
Inlet Tower Hotel Suites
Phone: (800) 544-0786
The Historic Anchorage Hotel
Phone: (800) 544-0988.
The Hotel Captain Cook
Phone: (800) 843-1950
Long House Alaskan Hotel
Phone: (888) 243-2133
Phone: (866) 480-7000
Phone: (800) 544-0970
Dates and prices vary with each hotel.