Header photo courtesy JodyO.Photos/Visit Anchorage
Many communities throughout Alaska host signature winter events for visitors and locals to keep the long winter Alaskan months interesting and enjoyable. And every year, Alaskans look forward to these winter celebrations which draw audiences from around the world. Here are some “can’t miss” Alaska Winter events for visitors vacationing in the land of the Midnight Sun.
Talkeetna is a small community on the southern edge of Denali National Park. 150 miles north of Anchorage, Talkeetna is accessible by car or weekend train service. Known as “the gateway to Denali”, Talkeetna’s population booms in the Summer season with mountain climbers and tourists but also comes together in the Winter to host a series of December events, Winterfest, which draws participants from all over. Talkeetna’s Winterfest offers an array of fun events highlighting the wilderness spirit of Alaska. The festival kicks off with a tree-lighting ceremony and parade on the first Friday in December. The highlight of Winterfest is the Wilderness Woman Contest and Bachelor Auction and Ball, a weekend extravaganza drawing visitors from all over the world. The Wilderness Woman Contest tests the physical strength and tenacity of Alaska women through competitive events like wood chopping and water hauling. Winners receive their choice of a fur hat or gold nugget. The Bachelor Auction is a rowdy event offering up some of Alaska’s finest for charity. Winning bidders earn a dance and drink with their bachelor. The ball features live music and the crowning of the Wilderness Woman.
Seward Polar Bear Jump-Off Festival
Alaskans love to support a good cause, especially if it involves testing your survival skills. Every January, the coastal community of Seward hosts the annual Seward Polar Bear Jump to raise money for charity. Since the first Polar Bear Jump of 1986, individuals donning whacky costumes like pirates and super heroes jump from the Seward Harbor dock into the frigid waters of Resurrection Bay. A parade through town features costumed participants and other events include a silent auction and turkey bowling. Just 127 miles from Anchorage, the drive to Seward offers spectacular views of the Chugach Mountains and is a great overnight destination. The Alaska Sealife Center, Alaska’s largest aquarium dedicated to marine research, is a great addition to a Seward trip. Polar Bear Jump-Off participants receive free admission to the Alaska Sealife Center.
Anchorage Fur Rendezvous
In its 65th year, Anchorage’s annual Fur Rendezvous celebration offers a week of fun-filled events paying tribute to Alaskan life and culture. Years ago, fur trappers would gather in Anchorage to exchange pelts at a fur auction in Anchorage. Grown to be known as “Fur Rendezvous,” the annual event now includes the Rondy Grand Parade, sprint dog sled races, the Miners and Trappers Ball, and the Mr. Fur Face Beard and Mustache Contest. Several races, including the Frostbite Footrace and Costume Fun Run, the Rondy Outhouse Race (teams carry a wooden outhouse across a snowy course), and Running with the Reindeer (an event modeled off of Spain’s Running with the Bulls) add to the spirit. The start of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race marks the final event for Anchorage’s Fur Rendezvous Celebration.
Fairbanks World Ice Art Championships
Imagine a giant octopus carved out of 20 tons of ice. Each March, artists from across the globe converge on Fairbanks to create an ethereal world of ice. Teams work around the clock with chainsaws and other tools to create their masterpieces during timed events. The end result is a 25-acre ice park illuminated with colored lights. Some sculptures like giant ice slides and a children’s park provide an interactive experience for visitors.
Alyeska Spring Carnival
Most Alaskans will tell you that winter runs from October to May. April is still ski season. Each April, Alyeska Resort in Girdwood hosts is annual Spring Carnival to celebrate the last days of winter and welcome in the spring. Alyeska Resort is Alaska’s largest ski resort, with one of the longest ski seasons in North America. The Spring Carnival is one of Alaska’s craziest events, with activities such as the “Dummy Downhill,” a ski race of not people but hand-made dummies judged on biggest air, creative design, and best crash. The best known event at the Spring Carnival is the Slush Cup, in which skiers (real people) attempt to glide over a 90-foot pool of freezing water in fur bikinis and crazy costumes. Other events include a costume party and live music throughout the weekend. Even if you aren’t a downhill skier, Spring Carnival is an event you don’t want to miss.