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A Winter Visit to Fairbanks

Last winter my husband had business he had to travel for to Fairbanks, Alaska [1].  At first the thought of going to Fairbanks in the winter was not too thrilling to me since temperatures can be extreme that time of year but we decided to gather up our family as well as my cousin’s and make the trip north with him.  Fairbanks is just over 300 miles from our home in Chugiak via the scenic George Parks Highway (Hwy #3).  Traveling this road in the summer you will find many activities and places to stop at and visit but in February most services are closed but it is still a very scenic road to travel, regardless of what time of year it is.  The ride up to Fairbanks took us about 7 hours and as we made our approach into the city we were fortunate to witness the Aurora Borealis [2] in the night sky.  It is incredible to see the colorful mysterious lights dancing in the skies.  We do get to see the Northern Lights at our home but as you go further north into Interior Alaska they appear more often. 

The World Ice Art Championships [3] are held each year in late February and March and draws international competitors from all over the world.  The timing of the event is important as it celebrates the coming of spring to Fairbanks. The Ice Carving Championship is a month long event that involves over 70 teams that carve artworks out of huge blocks of ice, sometimes weighing as much as 30,000 pounds and as large as 30 feet tall. 

Many years ago we were stationed in northern Japan and went to many snow/ice competitions so we anticipated that the teams entering the Championships in Fairbanks would be just as talented.  The competition is held at Ice Park next to O’Grady Pond where the large blocks of ices are harvested.  There is a minimal fee to get in but it is worth it to go beyond the ice walls and see the intricate displays of ice within the park.  We attended a few days prior to the judging so we watched in awe as the artists carved their ice masterpieces.  Each team of artists had a sketched out diagram of their final proposed carving and watching each one go from a simple block of ice to their creations was remarkable. Some of these carvings were so large that they were using heavy equipment to move pieces of ice into place. 

In addition to the Ice Art Competition, there is a family fun area that included ice slides that were lit up in the evening, an ice maze, and themed ice playgrounds to explore throughout the park.  We went back in the evening during the judging and it was a whole different experience. All of the ice carvings were lit up with colorful lights and the night we arrived it was snowing which added to the picturesque scene. The Grand Champion for the 2010 World Ice Competition was the ice carving “Saltwater Safari”.

While in Fairbanks we also visited Chena Hot Springs [4].  The Hot Springs were about 60 miles outside of Fairbanks on Chena Hot Springs Road.  Once we arrived we were able to soak in the healing mineral waters, learn about geothermal renewable energy and visit their Aurora Ice Museum.  The resort offers activities throughout each season. 

Before returning home, we also visited the University of Alaska-Fairbanks’ Museum of the North [5]. The Museum is well worth a visit regardless of the time of year. Its exhibits on Alaska’s wildlife, people and land are fabulous and we really enjoy the historical paintings of Alaska and Alaskan artwork.