Moose and her calf atop Glen Alps
Nearly full moon over Anchorage
There is something magical about winter in Alaska. Yes, it blizzards, the temperature drops, and can become quite extreme and uncomfortable. In between the long dark days in the middle of winter, Mother Nature provides one surprise after another.
My first winter was complete with pink flip flops to showcase to those back home in Florida that one could bridge the two lifestyles. I would run outside for a brief moment to dance in the snow and snap a few quick pics. Most people were still floored that the myths about Alaska were not entirely true. I would regularly set the record straight that I did not in fact live in an igloo and it was not winter year round. My first year was spent viewing winter cautiously and enjoying mainly from the inside looking out.
In time, clear moonlit nights called me into the woods to snowshoe where it was wild and quiet. I discovered a whole other world among the snow-covered trees, glistening snow crystals, and soft crunch of the snow underneath my feet. I began to live for the night, and yearned to go in search of ice formations and vast, untracked moonlit snow. Dark shapes of moose bedding down for the night would interrupt the stillness. Shooting stars would pull my attention upward to an expansive night sky. I would stretch a blanket out in an opening of snow, and delight in the landscape of the winter night.
Skiing followed with trips into Alaska’s backcountry to explore frozen mountain lakes, thick forests, deep powder caches, and historic gold mining remnants. One cold March day, I skied for the first time across Portage Lake to the towering glacier barely visible from the road system. We closed in on the towering, icy blue glacier to explore the outlying pressure ridge cracks and unique ice formations. With nearly 100,000 glaciers in Alaska I had begun with the accessible gems of Portage Glacier and the Matanuska Glacier off the Glenn Highway. As the sun moved across the sky, the way the light hit the ice of a glacier was a marvel to me. Although the magnitude difficult to grasp, a well-etched memory was forever formed of several of the glaciers visited.
As I became more comfortable with the winter elements, late night pursual for the northern lights became thrilling. Complete with hand warmers and thermoses of hot tea, there was no limit how far I would drive at midnight in search of the best viewing. I have heard people describe their first or most memorable displays vividly and with such recollection. No two displays ever seem to be identical, and the unforeseen color variations seem to dance in endlessness. The cold, dark winter nights seem to be the perfect canvas for the bright aurora to highlight the sky overhead. Ask an Alaskan how many hours they will wait patiently for the aurora to appear, and they will most likely give a smile and a story.
Alaskan winters have perhaps gained more respect from me and inspiration than other seasons. There is a transition, something unique that occurs when the snow flies and the darkness sets in. Mountains and valleys take a different shape, the night sky lights up, movement ceases, a peace overtakes the land, and a new explorer emerges. There is much yet to be discovered.
As John Hall’s Alaska gears up for the first Iditarod & Aurora Adventure tour next month, I can say that we are all proud to share winter in Alaska with our guests. Ice carvings, northern lights, dog sledding, flightseeing, snowmachining, and evening adventures are sure to create memories for all. This is the Alaska that also shapes our culture and experiences, and I look forward to sharing some firsts with many of our guests.