The appeal of a vacation is in the eye of the beholder. How about
temperatures of 30 below, snowy hillsides and limited daylight? To
some clients, these frigid facts are every bit as alluring as
tropical breezes and sandy beaches.
Winter vacationers have a knack for co-existing in harmony with
the cold. And no hardier group exists than the residents of
Fairbanks, Alaska, who celebrate a zest for North Country living
with their annual Fairbanks Winter Carnival and the World Ice Art
It is a month of icy adventure for travelers of all ages. And
visitors should be prepared to be inundated with everything that is
ice from ice cabins to thrones, as well as ice sculptures adorning
businesses around town.
At the World Ice Art Championships travelers will find
larger-than-life panoramas of Fairbanks’ crystal-clear “arctic
diamond ice” sculpted into mythical creatures, delicate butterflies
and stalwart warriors. Children and adults alike play on fanciful
ice slides and mazes in the Kids Ice Park.
One evening last year, I walked through the Kids Park and
watched lines of children slide down huge ice slides; frolic on
smaller, faster slides; crawl in Storybook Land houses of ice; and
play non-stop on simple ice rides, oblivious to the below-zero
temperatures. Ice Festival time means that early bedtimes and
homework often take a back seat.
The World Ice Art Championships’ festivities begin when up to
1,500 tons of ice are cut from a local pond. Teams then sculpt
blocks, weighing up to 4,400 pounds, into ice-carved exhibits some
the size of a small house.
All pieces are finished and illuminated on March 11, causing the
surrounding forest of spruce to glow eerily with the different
colored lights. The sculptures are displayed through March 26, but
encourage clients to take a look from March 11-18, as warmer
temperatures in late March slowly melt the icy art.
The Open North American Dog Race Championship runs concurrent
with the carnival. Unlike the lengthy Iditarod, these 20- to
30-mile sprint races wind along woodland trails and rivers and
through city streets. As many as 80 teams from around the world
compete in a variety of dogsled and skijoring (where a skier is
drawn over ice or snow by horse or vehicle) races. There are ample
souvenirs to buy from indoor and outdoor booths along with plenty
For something on the stranger side, the community of Chatanika,
just outside of Fairbanks, will hold the 27th Annual Outhouse Races
where outhouses designed and decorated from the elaborate to the
bizarre are pushed and pulled by teams to some semblance of a
Clients can also catch the Long John Contest to see the best
long underwear or try a hand at the snowmobile tug-o-war. The U.S.
Mixed National Curling Championship is also held during carnival
The Fairbanks Arts Association offers numerous literary, visual
and performing-arts presentations, as well as several workshops for
hopeful artists. One of the highlights is the Parka Parade, where
locals strut their simple to intricately decorated parkas some with
beadwork and porcupine quills.
The Alaska Trappers Association and the Alaska Department of
Fish and Game offer a fur auction where some of the area’s finest
pelts go to the highest bidder. But don’t expect a fancy auction
area: The event is held in a sporting-good store’s parking lot in
downtown Fairbanks, so tell clients to wear a parka.
The Ice Alaska and Winter Carnival celebration activities and
exhibits run Feb. 28-March 26, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., daily.
As for where to stay, the Fairbanks Convention and Visitors
Bureau can help find the right hotel for your client. The Fairbanks
Westmark and Bridgewater Hotel are close to the activities, and
Arctic Rental Car offers great rates and service.
For clients seeking to vacation in a winter wonderland,
Fairbanks offers all things ice and more.
Alaska Dog Mushers Association
Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau
Fairbanks Winter Carnival