Frosty Fun

Fairbanks festival celebrates icy creations

By: Christopher Batin

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 Championships.

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 of food.

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 finish line.

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 time.

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

Arctic Rent-A-Car

Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau

Fairbanks Winter Carnival

Ice Alaska