My teeth chattered in an off-key rhythm. My fingers, numb and wooden, were now useless as a result of too many removals from mittens to capture yet another inspiring photograph of the scene before me.
The scene, by the way, was Ice Alaska 2011, an early spring tradition in Fairbanks that felt anything but springlike. Bundled to our eyeballs, AK Dad and Kid and I had flown up to the Golden Heart City for the second time just to see the BP World Ice Art Championships. And, for the second time, were freezing testaments to the dedication of both artist and visitor for a month-long celebration of ice.
Now in its 32nd year of touting the benefits and beauty of frozen water, Ice Alaska and the World Ice Art Championships are solid figures upon the map of wintertime celebrations. From a mere community festival to help break up a long, dark, and almost unbearably cold winter, to a world-renowned contest that pits artist against artist, Ice Alaska is a must-see, must-experience event for anyone living in, or visiting, Alaska from late February through March.
In a new location (past ruffled feathers and falderal have led to the organization’s purchase of their own property just down the road from the previous location), with a new layout and a fresh perspective, Ice Alaska is ready and all fired up for Championships 2012. Billed as “Dreams Come True” to reflect this new moxie, the 2012 events take place from February 28-March 25, and will be open 10 a.m.-10 p.m. daily. Yes, you read that right, until 10 p.m.
With around 70 teams from countries all around the world, and some 45,000 visitors expected to make an appearance, Ice Alaska has indeed grown from a hometown party to a worldwide specatcle, and only here at AKontheGO are you going to find the hot tips for keeping your kids engaged (and warm enough) to manage a visit, or maybe even two visits, since passes are relatively cheap and playing on blocks of ice is so unusual, you might not get the crew to leave!
Getting There: From Anchorage? Fly on Alaska Airlines using miles or by taking advantage of seasonal deals (hey, Club 49’ers!). Or, fly our regional fav, Era Alaska and skip the TSA! Another fun route involves one-way on the Alaska Railroad and flying home the other, or vice versa. New things to see, one way will be short. Love it. Stay at Pike’s Lodge or the Hampton Inn; both relatively close to the action and both offering stellar service for families.
The Contests: From day one, February 28th, artists in teams will work with single or multiple blocks of ice, harvested from a nearby pond. Using electric and hand tools, these artists will create incredible, whimsical, and realistic images that appear over the course of several hours or days. Hint: Go at night to see the sculptures all aglow in many different colors. It is, in a word, amazing. A youth contest also exists for kids up to age 18, and we love to support young people engaging in this difficult art form.
The Park: Ice Alaska is broken down into different areas, some of which feature the artists’ creations, some “just for fun.” Be sure to grab a map so as not to miss anything! Various sculptures have been created in the Kids’ Park just for children to climb on, spin in, or slide down, and we are constantly impressed by the skill of artists who have made these things for our youngsters. Pirate ship? Oh yeah, Bogs boot? Yep. Slide after slide? Wahoooo! A must-do are those slides, whereby kids and grownups bring a sled (borrow one if you have to, this is boku fun) and whoosh down the icy ramps to the bottom. Oh yes, these are lit, too. Music blares, kids squeal, and a little choo choo takes folks back and forth to the main entrance if they get too cold or tired. Don’t forget to bring your skates, either, since a skating pond is there for folks of all ages to swirl or race your way around with the kids.
The Temperatures: Yeah, it’s cold. Really, really, cold. Layer kids carefully, using wicking fabrics, warm socks, and hats with ear flaps. Mittens keep fingers warmer. We add a balaclava, hand and foot-warmers, and more fleece than a sheep to keep AK Kid warm. We pack cocoa, snacks, and extra mittens, too, just in case. Ice Alaska does offer warming spots, but most of the prep work needs to be done by we parents ahead of time to ensure toasty kids. Keep ’em moving, and you’ll be all right. I skip the “Little Train” that offers a tour of the property for just this reason. There are not enough blankets in the world to keep a sitting person warm at -35 F.
The Tickets: Still a great deal, Ice Alaska tickets in 2012 are $10/pp adults, $5/pp kids 6-12, and kids under 6 are free. Season pass? Sure; $25/pp, $10 kids 6-12, and $65/family for unlimited access, which makes sense if you are spending a few days exploring the icy reaches of the property.
Other Stuff: Fairbanks’ own Morris Thompson Visitor and Cultural Center, the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum, and the Museum of the North are all great options for indoor fun. Take a Nordic ski at Creamer’s Field for more exercise, and eat at the Cookie Jar or Chena Pumphouse for some solid, family-friendly grub. See a review for all of the above during our visit last winter, HERE.