Alaska's Winter Wonders

A guide to things to do in Alaska during the winter months, including ice carving and swimming in hot springs

Alaskans love the winter nearly as much as the summer, and there is no shortage of festivals and events throughout the season celebrating the cold, the snow and the magnificent performances of the aurora borealis, otherwise known as the northern lights, not to mention the rugged spirit of the state’s residents.

Alaskans have found ways to embrace the short days and long nights, and hearty visitors to the Last Frontier who don’t mind a little cold now make up more than 10 percent of the nearly 2 million who travel here each year.

A popular destination is Alyeska Resort, a 304-room hotel about 40 miles south of Anchorage in the town of Girdwood, which features world-class skiing of both the downhill and Nordic variety. The resort gets an average of 650 inches of snowfall each year and features 2,500 vertical feet of terrain spread over 1,610 skiable acres, including North America’s longest double-black run.    

If you’re in Fairbanks the end of February or through March, it is a must to check out the BP World Ice Art Championships. The event has grown from a one-week, 8-team competition in 1990, to a month-long attraction involving more than 70 teams from all over the world. 

The competitions, and the accompanying kids park, attract more than 100 ice artists and approximately 45,000 visitors from Alaska and all over the world each year. The Ice Park opens the third week of February and remains open through March.

The Chena Hot Springs Resort
The Chena Hot Springs Resort. (©Roger Asbury/Shutterstock)

Also in the Interior is the Chena Hot Springs Resort, one of Alaska’s most well-known destinations in any season. A winter visit is truly a memorable experience at the resort about 60 miles northeast of Fairbanks. Whenever you may visit, though, make sure to tour the unique Aurora Ice Museum maintained by World Ice Art Champions, Steve and Heather Brice.

The facility is operational year-round using the same geothermal energy that heats and powers the resort and keeps the Aurora Ice Museum a cool 25 degrees Fahrenheit inside year-round.