It’s nearly February, the time of year we finally start to see more sunshine peeking its shiny head out a bit earlier in the morning, and lingering a little longer on the frozen hills in the afternoon. If you’re a winter-loving snow enthusiast, or your kids are, don’t despair: December and January may not have loaded us with our beloved white stuff, but winter has plenty of time to redeem itself. In fact, the next two months have historically been known as the most fantastic part of winter, especially in northern reaches of the state — like Fairbanks.
February in the Golden Heart City? Am I crazy? Yes and no, respectively. February in the interior may seem daunting, but Alaska’s second-largest city has so much to offer in the winter sports department, including a bit of slope time at a place known mostly to locals.
Moose Mountain’s rolling hillside runs are found in the scenic Goldstream Valley area of Fairbanks, and can easily be forgotten in the winter tourism realm of northern lights and dogsledding. However, a winter like this one, where snow is low and temperatures are high (for Alaska), Moose Mountain provides an uncrowded, family-friendly atmosphere chock-full of Alaskana. Come with me, friends, and let’s Shred the Moose.
Moose Mountain is mellow, featuring lots of long, gentle runs just perfect for kids. It’s easily accessed from downtown Fairbanks, too: After suiting up, one can reach the mountain in about 20-30 minutes. It’s easy to find and you’re sure to enjoy the drive, including an interesting temperature diffential as you drive down into swamp land (bbrrrr) then up into the hills.
The tiny day lodge opens at 9 a.m. with skiing open at 10, so an hour is plenty of time to rent gear, purchase tickets, and stash your extra clothing and snacks. Lift tickets are offered at discounted rates for students and those with military ID. Kids 6 or under and grownups (kids at heart) 70 or over are FREE!
The majority of Moose Mountain’s terrain is perfectly suited to beginner and intermediate skiers. Steep runs are few and far between, but skiers of all ability levels are out in spades; you’ll likely see some old-timers with leather ski boots and wooden skis out there along side high school kids testing out new snow boards for the first time. The mountain is also a hot spot for parents teaching their littles the ropes, so expect to see plenty of munchkins skiing their hearts out until dusk (the last run of the day is at 4 pm, when darkness comes to Fairbanks in February and March.)
The, er, lift
Moose Mountain’s most famous attribute affords a lovely and somewhat unusual opportunity to warm up between runs.
Yes, I did just way “warm up between runs.”
Fairbanks can be cold, and Moose Mountain responds to this natural conundrum with “variable capacity turbo charged terrestrial trams,” in the form of retrofitted school buses. The number of skiers determines the number of buses running, so there’s rarely much of a wait at the bottom of the hill. Ski or ride down, slip your skis into the rack or haul your board onto the bus, then sit back and relax in warmth for the ride up. Lasting about as long as a traditional ski lift ride, the bus takes about the same amount of time as a typical lift and adds quite a bit of whimsy to the whole experience.
After you’ve skied your final run of the day, try historic Ivory Jacks Restaurant for a hot toddy or hot chocolate and a burger — or out to Chena Hotsprings for a nice soak. If you happen to be in town over the weekend of February 6th, be sure to head downtown and watch the start of the annual Yukon Quest International Dog Sled Race, running each year between Fairbanks and White Horse, Yukon, and beginning in Fairbanks for the 2016 contest.
Things To Bring:
Warm Gear — Remember, layers are key! Fairbanks is famous for its cold temperatures, but with the right gear your family can stay warm and have a blast, even when you’re taking advantage of the $5 off at Moose Mountain when temperatures plunge below zero.
Refreshments — Snacks, beverages, and real food at the day lodge are limited. I suggest a thermos full of a hot beverage of your choice and a few hearty snack foods for lunch time.
Ski Map — Be sure to arm yourself with a map of the hill. While runs are marked, it can be hard to find your way around without a little guidance.
Places to Stay:
Pike’s Lodge: Near the Fairbanks airport, Pike’s offers wintertime specials to Alaskans.
Alpine Lodge: Also near the airport,Alpine Lodge is an affordable choice, with a family suite that provides plenty of room.
Hampton Inn: With a full hot breakfast provided each morning and a crystal-clear swimming pool, the Hampton always delivers an excellent experience every time we go there. Located off the Johanssen Expressway about 10 minutes from downtown.
Places to Eat:
Lemon Grass — Amazing Thai food. This place will warm you from the inside out.
Wolf Run — Wonderful desserts and espresso; Wolf Run is a Fairbanks staple.
College Coffee House — The “it” coffee shop in town. Check out an artsy vibe while you fuel up in the morning.
Sam’s Sourdough Cafe— Down home breakfasts. Sam’s no frills breakfast will get everyone going before a day on the ski hill. But be warned, Sam’s takes cash only.
The Cookie Jar — Yummy cookies and warm smiles. Another Fairbanks staple for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Diverse kids menu, too.