10 Ways to Enjoy Winter in Alaska (a New Normal?)

No snow? No problem with AKontheGO's list of family fun. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

No snow? No problem with AKontheGO’s list of family fun. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

For the second year in a row, January dawned with showery, warm, and windy weather that brought the concept of an Alaska winter to a screeching halt. Throughout the state, conditions have been wild and wacky, with fluctuating temperatures that are causing many residents and visitors to ask “Is this our new normal?”

This afternoon I listened to Alaska Public Media’s broadcast of Hometown Alaska, a weekly radio show that addresses issues of importance to 49th state residents. Host Kathleen McCoy dove in to the weather and climate issue (and I learned the two are different) with her guests, and the program is worth a listen for anyone interested in the hard-to-ignore changes to conditions outside.

But like most parents and outdoor enthusiasts, the ‘why’ of the situation, while important, could not replace the ‘what do we do, now?’ so I hope this list of 10 ideas for family fun will inspire, even if it’s raining, windy, or icy outdoors. In some small way, I hope this helps us make the best of what we have. After all, we get to live, work, and play in Alaska.

1. Go skiing. Wait, what? That’s right. Did you catch my columns in the Alaska Dispatch News about Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month at Eaglecrest in Juneau? Or the one where I found winter at the top of Alyeska Resort? Take a few days off, fly to Juneau utilizing the annual Constituent Fares or your own Alaska Airlines Miles, and go play on the slopes.

2. Ride a bike. It seems as if everyone’s got him or herself a fatty mountain bike these days and is plying the trails of town. We headed out to Far North Bicentennial Park with our knobby mountain bikes, and everyone did fine, albeit not at the fast pace the fat bikes can go. Read about our first trip to the trails HERE.

3. Watch the aurora. If there is one reason to embrace the warmer temperatures, being able to stand outside in the middle of the night watching northern lights is it. And Mother Nature has been delivering in a big way. Take the kids on a special overnight excursion with Salmon Berry Tours to the wee village of Talkeetna, where they (and you) will be able to relax in the comfortable and very Alaskan hospitality of Talkeetna Roadhouse as the lights dance overhead. Salmon Berry will even toss in some mushing behind a team of Alaskan huskies.

4. Take a train. Chug along the tracks between Anchorage and Fairbanks this winter on the Alaska Railroad’s Aurora Winter Train, now offering midweek service late February through March. Whether you choose to travel a shorter distance to Talkeetna, or the entire route to Fairbanks, the train is a great way to enjoy Alaska’s scenery without driving slick roads. Check out the Railroad’s packages for winter travelers, and discover why more people are choosing to ride the rails during a quieter winter season.

5. Play together. It’s been a while since I wrote about Kaleidoscape Play Studio, but I visited a few weeks ago and was simply amazed at the level of quality materials, exhibits, and interactive opportunities offered by KPlay owner Jennifer Stratton. Need a few hours to paint, play music, or build a car (no kidding)? Head to University Center Mall in midtown Anchorage for one of many daily play sessions or classes. Hint: KPlay is a great place for birthday parties and corporate trainings.

6. Learn something new. Eagle River Nature Center has a full calendar of programs for kids and adults throughout the year, regardless of weather conditions. Families can enjoy crafting, plant ID, astronomy, and a host of other activities for a free or low-cost afternoon in Eagle River Valley. Don’t forget to take a walk around the property, either, especially on a sunny day.

7. Go for a hike. One thing a slim snow year provides is ample opportunity to get outdoors and take a hike together. Anchorage families can wander favorites like Goose Lake, Campbell Tract, or Kincaid Park. Check out the Anchorage Park Foundation’s full list of parks, load up a pack, and get out there.

8. Take a glacier tour. Hundreds of people visit Matanuska Glacier in the summer, but come winter, the crowds thin out and guided tours are more in-depth and very scenic. Great for kids age 7 and up, the 1.5-hour tour allows for some pretty amazing hiking with the help of crampons. Allow two hours from Anchorage, then…

9. Snuggle up in a cabin. What could be more cozy than a night or two spent in a cabin at Sheep Mountain Lodge? Under new ownership, Sheep Mountain still boasts the same delightful hospitality as before, with the same log cabins that always manage to charm the socks off us. Oh, and the famous restaurant is now OPEN on the weekends during the winter months. Yay for pie and ice cream! The lodge staff say the snow is actually pretty good up the Glenn Highway, so toss the cross country skis and sleds in the car and go wild.

10. Catch a plane. A Rust’s flightseeing plane, that is. Did you know this longtime Anchorage company offers tours all year, and that winter flightseeing can offer some of the best, most unique views of Alaska you’ve never seen? True story. Rust’s also has been known to toss out specials for Alaskans, so hurry over to their website or call the office and see what fits your family, best.

Let it snow, or not. AKontheGO readers, you have plenty of options to stay busy now.

~EK

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