Written by MilwVon on 02 Oct, 2010
OK so if you've read my reviews from this trip with any attention to detail, you've noted the reference to coming to Fairbanks in March. Sure it's cold (on one 11 day trip, it didn't get above zero degrees Fahrenheit until my last day…Read More
OK so if you've read my reviews from this trip with any attention to detail, you've noted the reference to coming to Fairbanks in March. Sure it's cold (on one 11 day trip, it didn't get above zero degrees Fahrenheit until my last day in town) and dark (around seven or eight hours of daylight), but this city comes ALIVE in March! As much as I thoroughly enjoyed our time here this summer (or was it early fall?) . . . I simply love Love LOVE Fairbanks in March.First and foremost in my book . . . the aurora borealis, aka northern lights! This is what first brought me here in March 07 and again with friends in March 08. The crisp cold and clear night skies are perfect for viewing (and photographing) the heavenly light show. Attached to this entry is my photo from that first March 07 trip that earned me my first IgoUgo award "Best Nature Photo of the Year".With the cold and snow come many opportunities for skiing and skijoring (a version of skiing with a dog pulling you along). There are a couple of places to downhill ski, although there seems to be more people doing cross country skiing around the parks and on the frozen Chena River. Folks can also ice skate on one of the many frozen ponds and lakes in the area.Another big draw is the Open North American Championship (ONAC) dog sled race. Mushing teams have three heats over the course of three days, with the fastest aggregate time the winner. The past couple of years the champion has been Egil Ellis, who I was fortunate enough to capture on his 2008 championship run to the finish line. The photo attached here was so well liked by the musher that he used it for his personal business postcard that year. It was out of my love for the ONAC that I returned to Alaska this past March to take in the Fur Rondy event in Anchorage that includes the world championships of this sport. Just as Egil seems to be the front runner at the ONAC, Blaine "Bud(dy)" Streeper of Ft. Nelson, BC is the hands down favorite at the Rondy. Watching the dog teams and drivers compete is exhilarating and something I look forward to now, every year, even if I can't get to Alaska.Fairbanks is also home to the International Ice Art Championships. Ice carvers from around the world descend on this cold arctic place to take part in this event. Champions are crowned in the single block and multi-block carving competitions, with their work on display for roughly three weeks or until mother nature (and the sun) destroy them. In 2007 it was bitterly cold late into March so most were nicely preserved until the end of the show. The following year, however, there were warming temps and many of the more intricate carvings were badly damaged due to melting.Chena Hot Springs Resort is about an hour from Fairbanks and a favorite destination for those interested in soaking in the therapeutic hot spring lake or taking the snow coach to the top of the ridge for a night of aurora viewing. They also have other onsite activities including snow machining (snow mobile riding for those of us in the lower 48) and sled dog mushing.Speaking of dog mushing, you can try your own hand at mushing a team of dogs at several kennels in and around Fairbanks and throughout Alaska's interior. I highly recommend this experience to anyone who wants to feel the power of these four-legged athletes. I've done it on every winter trip to Alaska (Fairbanks and Anchorage) and look forward to doing it again this coming March! I believe once you have mushed on snow in the winter, you will never "settle" for those lame dirt trail rides that are offered in the summertime.I believe that no wintertime trip to Fairbanks would be complete without doing an Arctic Circle drive tour. I have done it both times I've visited and will continue to include it in any future winter trips. At roughly $200 per person, the 11-13 hour trip is a real land adventure. And with the recent popularity of the History Channel show "Ice Road Truckers", the Dalton Highway in the winter has gained a lot of public interest. Leave the driving to a professional tour operator and enjoy the scenery as you learn about the arctic tundra and the boom to Alaska when the pipeline came in the 1970's.I have written several journals and many reviews on activities in and around Fairbanks in the winter. I hope you will check them out too. I think once you've read and seen what Fairbanks has to offer visitors, you too will become hooked. If only I could get David to give it a try, but alas, he's just too adverse to the cold, below zero temps. The good news for me is that after my first trip back in 2007, I have never been short on finding a friend interested in going on my next winter adventure. Close
Written by Wildcat Dianne on 11 Aug, 2010
"I do not know the word 'quit.' Either I never did, or I have abolished it." Susan Butcher (1954-2006), Four-Time Iditarod Sled Dog Race Champion (1986-1990).Before I left for Alaska, I was watching one of my favorite sports programs Pardon The Interruption on…Read More
"I do not know the word 'quit.' Either I never did, or I have abolished it." Susan Butcher (1954-2006), Four-Time Iditarod Sled Dog Race Champion (1986-1990).
Before I left for Alaska, I was watching one of my favorite sports programs Pardon The Interruption on ESPN. It was March, and the Iditarod Dog Sledding Race from Anchorage to Nome was starting, and Mike Wilbong, one of the hosts of PTI was being teased by co-host Tony Kornheiser about his mispronounciation of mushing and mushers, the terms used in this sport by the racers. Wilbong was pronouncing it moosh-ing and Kornheiser said the correct way to pronounce it was mush-ing with a short u. The whole scene was pretty funny, and Wilbong spent the whole clip fighting to pronounce the term mushing right.
Cut to May 23 and we are on our last leg of our Discovery Riverboat cruise and are about to see David Monson, a musher and the late Susan Butcher's husband give us a demonstration on dog mushing with his pack of sled dogs that were bred from several of Susan Butcher's great sled dog racers. David Monson spoke to us on the riverboat for a while about how they go about their day getting their dogs ready for the Iditarod and other sled dog races around the world and then got onto his dog sled with a team of about eight dogs and took them for a wild ride around his and the late Susan Butcher's home. After the dogs were raced around the property, Dave Monson and some of his handlers released the dogs and let them swim in the Chena River to cool off. I was fascinated by these dogs and how well Dave Monson and his crew takes care of them. I sometimes think that mushing is a cruel sport and the mushers abuse their animals, but after hearing about Susan Butcher and Dave Monson and the care they give to their dogs, I was glad that they are humane dog handlers.
Susan Butcher was the second woman after musher Libby Riddles to win the Iditarod. From 1986-1990, Susan won four consecutive Iditarods and many other races throughout the USA and Canada. Susan Butcher was born in 1954 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but she always loved the outdoors and animals. After she graduated from college in Tennessee as a vet tech, she moved to Alaska to become a musher. She met and married Dave Monson in 1985, and they had two daughters Chisana and Tekla while they were building their dog sledding dynasty in Fairbanks. They never quit in producing great racing dogs.
Tragically, Susan Butcher got Acute Myelogenous Leukemia in 2005 and after a year of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant, the disease took its toll on Susan Butcher and she died on August 5, 2006 at the age of only 51. In March 2008, Governor Palin (she did something right during her term!) proclaimed the first Saturday in March (which is the start of the Iditarod) as Susan Butcher Day to honor a great pioneer of Alaska's state sport.
After we saw the racing demonstration, we heard about the story of Granite, one of Susan Butcher's great racing dogs. He was the runt of his litter and people said he wouldn't amount to anything, but Susan Butcher and Dave Monson trained and worked with this dog who became known as Granite, and he was the lead dog for all four of Susan Butcher's Iditarod wins. Granite lived until the ripe old age of 17, and I teared up hearing about another underdog doing right!
After we saw the Athabascan camp, we had about 30 minutes free time to walk around the camp or go and see the sled dogs they had in a corral on the other side of the camp. You didn't have to ask me twice on what I was planning on doing. I was going to the dogs, and said I would see Larissa back at the dock when we had to be back on the riverboat. One of Dave Monson's handlers was there to answer all questions the passengers had about the dogs, and I just hung out at the fence petting all of the dogs and wishing I could bring one home to Amanda to play with. I don't think it would be a good idea to strap Amanda and Marty to a sled. They will probably get the sled caught on a tree or something, and we don't get snow here in Florida!
Learning about mushing and sled dogs was the best part of the Discovery Riverboat Cruise, and I left Fairbank well-educated on the culture of this little city with the obnoxious nickname of the Armpit of Alaska.
Written by Wildcat Dianne on 10 Aug, 2010
At first when I learned that we were visiting an Athabascan village on our Riverboat Discovery cruise, I was skeptical thinking that the whole thing would be a big tourist trap and the Athabascan people were being exploited by tourists and tour companies, but I…Read More
At first when I learned that we were visiting an Athabascan village on our Riverboat Discovery cruise, I was skeptical thinking that the whole thing would be a big tourist trap and the Athabascan people were being exploited by tourists and tour companies, but I was wrong after exploring the village which is not an actual village, but made for the tourists to give them an idea of what life is like for these hearty people who live in villages near the Canadian border in eastern Alaska.
Our guides were two young women who are college students during the school year. Nicole goes to the University of Alaska at Fairbanks while the other young guide we met, Kasiah, attends the University of Arizona Flagstaff. Both are Athabascan women and gave us riverboat cruisers a very educational demonstration about their lives, tribe, and culture.
The first experience with the Athabascan part of the cruise was seen from the riverboat. Kasiah was seen at the shore of the Chena skinning and preparing salmon for drying. Drying fish is a big part of the Athabascans getting ready for winter. The fish gets them through winter when one cannot fish for salmon or other fish if the rivers are frozen or salmon fishing season is over by wintertime. Kasiah was preparing dog salmon this day, which is a salmon that is not for human consumption, but the natives and several dog mushers give the dog salmon to their dogs as a good source of protein to keep their coats shiny and skin from drying during the harsh Alaskan winters. The salmon the Athabascans eat themselves are usually pink, Sockeye, and Chinook salmon.
After we made a run to the late Susan Butcher's dog mushing camp to be introduced to her husband and a demo dog run, the boat turned around to land at the Athabascan Village where we got another lesson in Athabascan hunting and gathering practices, How To Hunt and Prepare a Moose for Winter Use. After we got off the riverboat, we were led to seats in the village where our other guide Nicole, was there to give us a demonstration on how they get moose they kill in hunts ready for the winter. Nicole was very funny in showing us how they call moose when they are hunting. The Athabascan take a moose antler from a previous hunt, and scrape it on a tree as if a real moose is doing that to attract a mate. The Athabascan make moose like noises to get their attention which sounds like burps and grunts. So Nicole decided to be funny instead of grunting, she said "HERE MOOSIE MOOSIE!" Everyone in the audience laughed, and Nicole said, "my Mom told me never to burp or grunt in public!"
Moose hides are used for clothing and coats, and the meat is frozen or dried for eating throughout the winter. The bones are used for utensils and the antlers are used to make furniture or one big back scratcher. HA HA!
Nicole and Kasiah then showed a hand-made Athabascan coat made from wolf and beadwork. It was a beautiful work of art, and Nicole put it on for all of us to see and said she was happy it was only 75 degrees that day and not 90 like it is in the middle of summer.
After the moose and coat demonstration, we had about thirty minutes to explore the Athabascan camp and Susan Butcher's sledding dogs before we headed back to The Discovery, which will lead us to my third and final journal entry Going To The Dogs Alaskan Style.
Notice lately that some of my journals have something to do with a pig of some sort? Either it's pigging out somewhere during my travels or being chased by the neighbor's pigs when I got too curious for my own good. Now here…Read More
Notice lately that some of my journals have something to do with a pig of some sort? Either it's pigging out somewhere during my travels or being chased by the neighbor's pigs when I got too curious for my own good. Now here I am in the middle of Alaska and I am having another experience with a pig. Was I born during the Chinese Zodiac Year of the Pig or what?
After checking out of our hotel, Larissa and I went exploring downtown Fairbanks and its environs before going on our riverboat cruise on the Chena River later that afternoon. After checking out the downtown and grabbing something to eat, we headed a little bit out of town to an area that you can visit the Alaska Pipeline and its information center.
The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS for short) is a very important aspect of Alaska and its people. In 1973, the price of foreign oil from places like Saudi Arabia skyrocketed causing gas prices to go through the roof and many gas stations running out of gas when tons of people were buying too much gas at once to try to avoid the rising costs. In 1968, oil was discovered in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, which is in the very north of Arctic Alaska, and the government wanted to open Prudhoe Bay to exploration of its oil and build a pipeline that would pump the oil 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay all the way down to the ports in Valdez where it would be shipped to the Lower 48.
After five years of legal complications between the government, Alaskan natives, and several environmental groups not wanting anyone to drill for oil in Alaska, construction on the Alaska Pipeline (known simply as The Pipeline by Alaskans) began in 1973 and continued until its completion in 1977. Thousands of Americans looking to make great money working for the pipeline construction teams flocked to Alaska during this time to help build The Pipeline. As of today, over 16 billion barrels of oil have been harvest from Prudhoe Bay and shipped all over the USA.
Now you wonder, where does the pig come into this story? Somehow, the pipelines have to be kept clean because of the the oil residue that accumulates during the time oil travels from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez, and it would be too dangerous for people to climb into the 4-foot wide pipes that course through the heart of Alaska. Enter "the Pigs". These are huge drill-like devices that are sent through to perform maintenance along The Pipeline on a regular basis and perform many other functions as well. The pictures that I took of the pigs near Fairbanks are retired "scraper pigs", and they are used to get rid of any wax that comes out the oil going through The Pipeline and builds up on the pipes. These "piggings" have to be done on a regular basis to keep the oil flowing the entire 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez.
Larissa and I spent about 40-45 minutes at the pipeline information center and The Pipeline walking along the pipeline and checking out the pig, too. People who have tried to sabotage the Pipeline through the years have gone to jail, and one yahoo shot a hole through the Pipeline with his gun leaking thousands of gallons of Alaskan crude into the ground. I learned a lot in such a short time visiting The Pipeline and reading about it before coming to Alaska, and this time "the pig" didn't chase me!
Written by Wildcat Dianne on 01 Aug, 2010
When you arrive at the outskirts of Fairbanks, Alaska via Highway 3 coming in from Anchorage, you are greeted by a sign saying WELCOME TO FAIRBANKS: THE GOLDEN HEART OF ALASKA. Most Alaskan will tell you that Fairbanks is more like an armpit…Read More
When you arrive at the outskirts of Fairbanks, Alaska via Highway 3 coming in from Anchorage, you are greeted by a sign saying WELCOME TO FAIRBANKS: THE GOLDEN HEART OF ALASKA. Most Alaskan will tell you that Fairbanks is more like an armpit than a heart being that there is nothing much to see here, and locals and tourists alike use the place as a jumping off point to Alaska's Interior, Denali, and the Arctic. Fairbanks is only located 200 miles south of the Arctic Circle and 350 miles north of Anchorage.
But usually a place nicknamed "The Armpit of Alaska" by the locals might turn off most tourists, but Fairbanks has a lucrative tourist trade going every summer. You just have to know where the best places are to see.
Larissa and I only spent a weekend at the end of May in Fairbanks. We left Anchorage at 6 a.m. on Saturday and had a very scenic almost traffic free ride the 350 miles north. We stopped at an overlook of Denali along with taking pictures of some beautiful mountain scenery along the way. We made great timing and got to Fairbanks about 3 p.m. These next two journals of my fascinating whirlwind trip to Fairbanks will detail Larissa and my visits to the University of Alaska Fairbanks Museum, The Aurora Ice Museum and Hotel, Chena Hot Springs, enjoying Christmas in May at the North Pole, and a great riverboat cruise on the Chena River that explored the Athabascan tribe, dog mushing, and other Alaskan cultural things. There is a lot to see in a city (Population 35,000 that experiences long hot summers and freezing winters.
The history of Fairbanks is like Anchorage, a short one. Fairbanks was founded in August 1902 by E.T. Barnette, an entrempreneur who was trying to set up a trading post near Tanacross on the Tanana River. But his riverboat taking him to Tanacross ran aground about 7 miles up the Chena River. Some prospectors mining gold nearby heard all of the commotion and ran to help. Barnette fell in love with the area and with the encouragement of the prospectors, decided to make the area his permanent home and set up his trading post there. Fairbanks is named for Charles E. Fairbanks, a Senator from Indiana who became Theodore Roosevelt's second Vice President during his second term as President of the USA (1905-1909).
Gold was discovered near Fairbanksin 1902 bringing many more new settlers to the Fairbanks area. Judge James Wickersham set up government offices in Fairbanks in 1903 and made the trading post a permanent town and settlement.
Fairbanks is located in the Central Tanana Valley on the Chena River. It's home to the University of Alaska Fairbanks and to a very diverse population that consists of 66% white people, 13% African-American people, 10% Native, 3% Asian, 6% Latino, and 8% of other nationalities.
So sit back and enjoy my adventures to Fairbanks and the places that have been deodorized!
Written by MilwVon on 23 Mar, 2008
Fairbanks has a charm that reminds visitors of the gold rush era, a time long since gone. The downtown area has a lot of shops and businesses that seem to barely stay afloat. During the winter, it seems to be a relatively slow…Read More
Fairbanks has a charm that reminds visitors of the gold rush era, a time long since gone. The downtown area has a lot of shops and businesses that seem to barely stay afloat. During the winter, it seems to be a relatively slow paced city, with the streets rolled up and quiet by 6:00pm. As you get outside of the downtown area, however, you will find much of what you are probably used to seeing in your own community: Wal-Mart, McDonalds and convenience stores. While sprawled out in a large geographic area, Fairbanks is not densely populated.The downtown area is where the start/finish line is for the GCI Open North American Championship sprint dog races. They actually run down Second Avenue while competing which provides spectators an exciting vantage point for watching the dog teams run. I spent two days as a spectator, fan and photographer. The first was at the start/finish line on Second Avenue. On Sunday, the longest and last day of the three day race, I staked a spot where the teams head out onto the course via the ramp from Second Avenue down onto the Frozen Chena River . . . and subsequently return about 80 minutes later coming uphill to head towards the finish line about a mile away. It was a very exciting vantage point to watch and photograph these four legged athletes!Other outdoor sporting activities can be found at Birch Recreational Area, as well as one of several ski areas near town. They enjoy downhill skiing as well as the cross country version. If you've never seen people skiing with dogs pulling them along, then you may be thrilled to see skijoring. It is a pretty remarkable thing watching the skier being pulled along the course by a dog (or two).Very near the downtown area is Ice Park, where the International Ice Art Championships are held. This year was unseasonably warm at the very beginning of March so many of the ice sculptures were damaged or completely destroyed by the 40 degree weather. Additionally, we were in Fairbanks near the end of the public exhibition period so the viewing (and photographing) was less than optimal. It was still a great way to spend an evening, as there were probably 15 or 20 sculptures still in decent condition.If you are looking for a unique gift that is made in Alaska, look no further than the Great Bowl Company located just off Airport Way. All bowls are made on the premises from native white birch trees. There is a viewing glass where you can observe how the bowls are made. If you would like to have something personalized into your bowl, they have the capability to do that including inscriptions and photo-etching. They can prepare special gift baskets that include locally made jams and other food items. Worried about how much you buy and getting it all home? No worries as they will ship your items home for you!There were a couple of late evenings (after 7:00pm) when we found ourselves hungry and needing to find something for dinner. For a very good burger, I would recommend Boston's Pizza which is near the intersection of the Old Steese Hwy. and Johansen Expressway by Wal-Mart . . . or Brewster's which is facing Airport Way about a block from University Ave. Both had more items on their menu if you're looking for a more full service dining experience. For us, however, both were very good for a late night burger!While driving around within the general Fairbanks city limits, there is a good chance you'll see moose. In fact, the only wild moose we saw during our trip was out on Farmers Loop Road in a small neighborhood on the hillside. It was a momma and her yearling calf, which totally excited Jon . . . who had been on high moose alert since our arrival the week before. Thankfully, he did not have to return to Wisconsin without seeing a moose live and up close!I mentioned the Museum of the North at the University of Alaska - Fairbanks in my overview for this journal. It is a wonderful little museum that tells of the history and culture of the native Alaskans. I would highly recommend planning two to four hours some morning or afternoon exploring this local treasure.If you plan a vacation to Fairbanks in the summer, you will have additional options for tours and activities in and around the city. Take a look at their visitors' and convention center web site (www.explorefairbanks.com) for information including local attractions, tour operators and activities. Close
Written by MilwVon on 20 Mar, 2007
The Northern Alaska Tour Company (www.northernalaska.com) is a full service, year-round tour operator with ground and air adventures to meet the needs of all visitors of varying interests and skills. I was very happy to find them through the Fairbanks Convention & Visitors Bureau website…Read More
The Northern Alaska Tour Company (www.northernalaska.com) is a full service, year-round tour operator with ground and air adventures to meet the needs of all visitors of varying interests and skills. I was very happy to find them through the Fairbanks Convention & Visitors Bureau website (www.explorefairbanks.com).Guests meet at their office out by the airport around 6:15am for a 6:30am departure. Because of the nature of the tour, we were encouraged to bring our own snacks, lunch and beverages, since opportunities to stop in the arctic during the dead of winter were limited. With our group of nine assembled and ready to go... we were on the road by 6:30am.Our first stop was the Alaskan Pipeline in Fox, which is just 15 minutes outside of Fairbanks. Here there is a visitor center, although it was closed for the winter. Our tour guide Alan provided us with a history and overview of the Alaskan Pipeline and Alaska’s history in oil. (See the journal entry on the Alaskan Oil Pipeline for some interesting facts and details about oil in Alaska.) This would be our first of MANY pipeline viewing opportunities. For approximately one-half of the 800 miles, the pipeline is above ground and runs along this highway to Prudhoe Bay. We would see it frequently throughout our journey.As we continued up the Richardson Highway heading from Fox towards the Dalton Highway, we passed several gold dredging and mining areas. Fairbanks and this region of Alaska is rich with "loose" gold and today there are folks back dredging, mining and prospecting for it. We were told that when gold prices plummeted to around $300/ounce, it wasn’t profitable for people to look for gold so many areas shut down for several years. Today, with prices back up around $600/ounce, there is renewed interest and activity in getting the gold to market.Our journey continued on the Dalton Highway, also known as the "Haul Road" because it was built to support the hauling of equipment, people and supplies while the pipeline was being build in the mid 1970s. Today, the road remains in terrible conditions, mostly unpaved and gravel. During our trip in the winter, however, the snow-pack created an rather smooth surface in most areas, although there were spots with severe pot holes and places where the asphalt was separating due to the thawing and shifting of the permafrost.When we reached the Yukon River, there was no place to stop or get out of the vehicle, so photo ops were really random, from inside the tour van. I managed to snap a few decent photos throughout my trip but not nearly as many as I would have liked. It was amazing to see a river of the width of the Yukon completely frozen over. Many local Native Eskimos and Indian tribes use the river as their "highway" to move from place to place. Even in the winter, completely frozen over, the Yukon could be navigated by snow machines or sleds.Up on the high valley tundra, the black birch trees were covered with wind-blown snow that created a packed snow and ice covering that in some places made them look like "snow soldiers" on the hillside. Some were so densely covered; you couldn’t even see that there was a tree under all of the white. (Please take a look at the photo attached to this review to see what I’m talking about.) After a 15-minute photo op stop here, we were off for our final destination... the Arctic Circle!We arrived around 1:45pm, a bit more than seven hours after our departure from town. Not bad considering we had traversed some 200 miles over predominantly a snow covered primitive road! At the Arctic Circle area, there were outhouses (thank the Lord) and a photo op sign showing that you had made it. Here we all took a photo with Alan, plus any others that we wanted to remember our time at the Arctic Circle.I should say that there were potty stops along the way, approximately every two hours or so. Not too bad! It was important, however, to monitor and watch your food and liquid intake as there were no options to just "pull-over" even for the men. Our group did fabulously, without incident. The drive back to town seemed to go a bit faster, as people didn’t seem as interested in getting out for photos, so I was largely relegated to "from inside the van" photography. Some pictures turned out OK but many were a waste. Nice to have a DSLR where there is no financial loss on such "waste." We arrived safely back at the main terminal where our trip originated at around 8pm. A full 13+ hour trip!Some may feel that the price paid ($169 + $10 optional tip) is a bit high but for me, it was well worth it given that I got to go and see all that is so famous in Alaska’s Interior Region and I didn’t have to be burdened with the long and treacherous drive. The views of Alaska’s remote areas were spectacular. Unfortunately there was a bit of haze in the sky, so we couldn’t see great distances like to Mt. McKinley or the Brooks Range. After the tour was completed, we were given an Arctic Circle Adventure Certificate for having been to the Arctic Circle. Very cool! That along with the photo of me at the Arctic Circle sign will make a nice framed memento of my day. Close
1962 Second AvenueFairbanks, Alaska 99701PH: (907) 452-CURLWeb: www.curlfairbanks.orgBecause I figured that where there is a lot of ice, there should be lots of ice sports. Not really interested in checking out ice hockey, I thought I’d see about curling. Sure enough, Fairbanks not only has…Read More
1962 Second AvenueFairbanks, Alaska 99701PH: (907) 452-CURLWeb: www.curlfairbanks.orgBecause I figured that where there is a lot of ice, there should be lots of ice sports. Not really interested in checking out ice hockey, I thought I’d see about curling. Sure enough, Fairbanks not only has a curling club but a wonderful, state of the art facility!OK admit it... you’ve seen curling on TV, probably during the Olympics at some weird hour of the night, and wondered about the quirky sport with a large "puck" and the funny brooms. I know here in the lower 48 of the United States, curling seems to be a little known and rarely seen sport. If you are a curler, you know about the game but if you don’t, it remains a mystery. When I was living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin I was surprised to learn that a couple of the guys I worked with were curlers and that there was a local curling club with their own curling rink. Heck, they even hosted "bonspiels" (the equivalent of a party weekend tournament) every year! But unless you are part of what seems to be this special "underground" community, you may never have the opportunity to watch curling as a spectator other than during the Olympics on TV.The Scots originate the game in the 16th century and are credited with bringing it to the Yukon Territory of Canada during the Klondike gold rush in 1898. From there, prospectors brought the game over to the area later known as Fairbanks around 1902, leading to the formation of the Fairbanks Curling Club in 1905. In celebrating their centennial in 2005, they were the oldest recognized sports club in Alaska.The club has gone through a tremendous growth since their early days of playing games out on the frozen river banks. Today they have a beautiful facility with six "sheets" (game rinks) plus a full service snack bar and locker rooms. They have hosted numerous national and international championships here, and are proud to have several champions in their membership.The spectator gallery of the venue is maintained at a comfortable 68° F, which feels quite balmy when it’s -25° F outside. The ice arena itself maintains a temperature of precisely 32° F. Curling leagues run from fall to spring (September through April) and are open to people of all ages and skills. From what I could gather, there is no "open play" time when the general public can come and just give it a try.During my vacation to Fairbanks, I stopped in on the Wednesday evening "dinner league" which is billed as a "social curling" league. Thirteen teams of four individuals compete weekly, with a full dinner being served at the completion of the evening’s matches. The cool thing about this league is that with the odd number of teams, the odd team out (the 13th as it were) would not compete that night, but would be responsible for preparing the dinner that would be served after the six matches were completed (around 8pm). I thought it was a very cool way to meet and make friends. No bowling league I ever joined had such a fun way to get to know others in the community.A Little About Curling – The SportFor those unfamiliar with curling, the sport seems to play largely like shuffleboard on ice. The game itself is made up of 10 ends, similar to the 10 frames of bowling with a match being contested between two teams of typically four individuals. During an end, both teams shoot stones, alternating turns, trying to score the highest number of points in the scoring circle. Of course, players also try to knock their opponent’s stones off the scoring grid to reduce their total number of points scored in the end. The 12-foot scoring circle looks a bit like a target with a center bull’s eye which is the ultimate target for the curlers. Once all 16 stones have been delivered, the score is added up for that end.The game is called "curling" because as the stone slides down the ice, it "curls" based on the spin placed on it during the delivery release. With the stones weighing about 42 pounds, you can imagine how challenging it may be to get it down the full length of the ice... over 100 feet! Part of the strategy of the game is the sweeping that takes place after the stone has been released, as it heads towards the scoring circle. This sweeping slightly melts the ice, causing there to be less friction under the stone which results in less curling and more momentum (or slide) of the stone.At the completion of the ten ends, the scores are added up and the winner of that game declared. Matches can be made up of multiple games to determine the overall winner of the competition between the two teams. Close
Well that’s not exactly true. The aurora borealis, aka "northern lights" can be seen throughout the world but most frequently and with the greatest intensity, within the auroral oval surrounding the earth’s (magnetic) North Pole which largely encompasses much of Alaska. Other areas of the…Read More
Well that’s not exactly true. The aurora borealis, aka "northern lights" can be seen throughout the world but most frequently and with the greatest intensity, within the auroral oval surrounding the earth’s (magnetic) North Pole which largely encompasses much of Alaska. Other areas of the world that frequently have fantastic auroral displays are Canada, Iceland, Greenland, Norway and Siberia. For me, coming to Alaska in the winter had one pay off... to see first hand (and photograph), the aurora borealis!I arrived to Fairbanks well past midnight, hoping to see the aurora in the sky. While slightly disappointed, I knew that wasn’t really likely. I got to bed around 2:30am, simply beat from the trip. Folks at breakfast said there was a pretty display around 4:30am but at that hour, I was deep into REM sleep. Monday was a dreary snowy day, with a lot of cloud cover around Fairbanks. Given that I needed to be up by 5:00am for my Arctic Drive Tour on Tuesday, I focused on sleep and passed on the aurora. Again, folks tell me it was a nice display... missed another chance. It was good to know that in spite of the cloudy weather during the day in Fairbanks, the nighttime skies were clear and said to have displayed nice auroral activity.When I returned from the Arctic Drive Tour, I had several e-mail notices from ADEC that the northern lights should be visible tonight--around midnight. I immediately jumped into gear to swap out my camera gear from daytime to nighttime and added a layer of clothing. I thought Cleary Summit would be my best first experience since it’s a well traveled area, with lots of other aurora viewers so that was where I chose to go. I was up on Cleary Summit by 11pm and didn’t have to wait long for the show! The beautiful slow moving aurora danced across the sky from my right, moving left. It was a lovely shade of green, the most common color for the aurora. I took around 100 photos, of which around 20 or 25 were really clear and nice. Some of them weren’t so good because I was parked next to this van of people who were "in and out" and kept turning on their interior and parking lights. Nothing can ruin a nighttime photo that extracurricular lights from the city or the car lights of inconsiderate people.It was darn cold up there--approximately -20 degree F! Since my rental car had running daytime lights that I didn’t know how to turn off, I struggled to avoid going to the car to warm up while idling the car. Thankfully the air was calm and there was no wind to speak of. After about an hour and 100 photos, I thought it was a productive night, so I headed back to town. In spite of the below zero temps, my camera equipment held up and performed admirably. I had no freeze up or battery kill, so I was good for the entire hour without having to take my camera in to thaw. (I didn’t learn the next morning at breakfast how to turn out the headlights, so that wasn’t a problem for the rest of my aurora trips to Cleary Summit.)There is a lot available on the Internet to help visitors understand the aurora and to plan for a successful viewing. With decent camera equipment, many are fortunate to capture the experience to share with others. In my case, my preparation became an obsession. I must have read 1,000 pages of literature on the aurora, photographing them and finding the best locations in and around Fairbanks. I also connected with other photographers via online groups. While many were casual amateurs like me, many more were published and nationally recognized photographers and scientists who have captured award winning pictures of the northern lights over Alaska. I felt genuinely blessed to have so many people willing to share their expertise, special viewing areas and friendship with me. I know that without their input and counsel, my photos would not have turned out nearly as good as they did. I also know that I would not have had the right lens (I bought a 14-54mm, f/2.8-3.5 just for this trip) nor would I have been prepared for the typical battery shutdown due to sub-zero temperatures, had I not connected with these wonderful folks.In order to avoid the risk of plagiarizing some wonderful resources, I am providing website links to some of the better materials I found that helped me in preparing for my trip to Fairbanks:North Pole Gallery/Kevin McCarthy (North Pole, AK) www.northpolegallery.com/news_show.aspx?news=26Photographing the Northern Lights With Your DSLR/Roy Hooper (Circle, AK) www.royhooper.ca/articles/aurora.htmlHome of the Northern Lights/Jan Curtis (Laramie, WY) http://climate.gi.alaska.edu/Curtis/aurora/aurora.html Aurora Chasers Website Info (excellent info for those shooting with film cameras) www.aurorachasers.com/PhotographyGuide/index_htmlI did most of my aurora viewing and photography up on Cleary Summit. There is a parking area that is atop the summit right at the Skiland turnoff from the Steese Hwy. Each night there were between five and ten cars up there, some to view and others photographing. I felt very comfortable up there, as a woman traveling alone but wasn’t stupid either. When it was just me and one other vehicle, I didn’t stay very long. Fortunately, there was only one evening cut short because folks had left and I was the only person up there outside photographing with another vehicle parked there.A special treat while at the Fairbanks Visitor Center I found out that they give certificates to anyone who has witnessed the aurora borealis in Fairbanks. It reads: "This is to certify that Yvonne Bennett is an official member of the Latitude 65 Aurora Borealis Club having viewed the northern lights on March 13, 2007 in Fairbanks, Alaska. Signed, Deb Hichoh, President and CEO of the Fairbanks Convention & Visitors Bureau." Close
The GCI Open North American Championship is a three day race that draws competitive teams from around the world. With two 20-mile sprint races contested on Friday and Saturday, the champion is crowned after the exhausting final 27.5-mile race on Sunday. The winner is determined…Read More
The GCI Open North American Championship is a three day race that draws competitive teams from around the world. With two 20-mile sprint races contested on Friday and Saturday, the champion is crowned after the exhausting final 27.5-mile race on Sunday. The winner is determined by the combined times for all three races. This is the race that sprint mushers have trained for annually since 1946.The races start/finish line is in downtown Fairbanks right on Second Avenue, with the course laid out throughout the city and over through the Mushers Hall race grounds, just beyond the Chena River. It was amazing to see how they transformed the street into a dog race course literally overnight. They trucked in tons of snow which was groomed nightly for the following day’s race. There were many places to watch the various sled teams race against the clock. I took in the races at the start/finish line on Second Avenue for both Friday’s start and Sunday’s exciting finish.There were 27 teams competing, from all over Alaska, the US lower 48 and even overseas. The youngest musher was just 16 years old and was a third generation competitor in this championship race. A team from Germany traveled the furthest. I cannot imagine flying from Germany to Alaska with all of that gear and 20 dogs!Sled teams consisted of between 12 and 22 dogs, with one musher driving the sleigh. If a dog became injured or for whatever reason deemed to be holding back the team, the musher could remove it from the line but it had to be carried in the "basket" of the sled. There were no substitutions allowed, so whatever dogs started Friday’s race were the only ones allowed to race on Saturday and Sunday. On Friday every dog was marked with paint to verify its position as a starting dog.The teams are started individually at two minute intervals. The 20 mile run took right about an hour... and the 27.5 miles around 90-100 minutes. At two points on the course, sleds going out passed sleds on the return portion of their run. They say that there is great opportunity for mishaps at these junctions, especially if the dogs don’t run straight or become distracted. I didn’t make my way to either of those two points on the course, opting to watch them start downtown insteadSpeaking of the start, it was really amazing to see how excited the dogs got as the countdown to "GO" was called. The dogs were often barking and many times prancing and jumping in the line, anxious to start running. I think my favorite team of dogs was the one that consisted of all Alaskan Huskies with similar colors of white and grey. I have a photo of them attached to this review. It was funny because many of the dogs are mixes, with Alaskan or Siberian husky base with other breeds used for speed and endurance. They were not particularly large dogs either. I think that was what surprised me the most. I really expected to see the large stocky type dogs you see that are representative of the breed in the AKC shows.While I was there for the start of the races on Friday, I didn’t stay for them to finish. Instead, I came back on Sunday afternoon for the completion of the final 27.5-mile race. The dogs all still seemed to have plenty of energy left, although some mushers were pushing hard to help their dogs get to the finish line. In fact, one was off his sled and running along side it pushing it as the dogs pulled. After the race course was completed, the dogs were taken off their leads and out of the harnesses and chained to their team truck and fed. It was a real feeding frenzy of a liquid mixture that looked a bit like soupy porridge. They were ravenous, wolfing down every drop in their individual bowls.When all of the racing was over and all teams in, Buddy Streeper of Ft. Nelson, BC (Canada) was crowned the champion with a record breaking total time of 204 minutes and 47.1 seconds, a full two minutes faster than the previous record time. There was a very nice article in the local paper if you are interested in reading more about the race and results: http://newsminer.com/2007/03/19/6017 NOTE: The title sponsor GCI is the largest telecommunications company serving Alaska. Close