The Land of Ice and Lights (and Sled Dogs): A Fairbanks Getaway

This year I gave myself the best early birthday present ever--a trip to Alaska with friends. It's only a 3.5 hour direct flight from Seattle to Fairbanks, and it has something that you can't get anywhere else: world class ice sculptures! And it turned out to be so much more than that.

Fairbanks hosts the World Ice Art Competition, where sculptors come from all around the world every March to impress everyone with their creations. I was amazed at the talent from even some of the warmest countries, but it turns out many of them wear multiple hats and excel in other three-dimensional mediums as well, creating sand and pastry art.

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When we had our fill of ice sculptures, we drove just north of town to the Open North American Championship Sled Dog Race and watched 25 mushers take off from the starting line. Some of the dogs were jumping straight up in the air or had to be held back because they were so eager to be running, but at least one was just chillin', sitting right down until they called out "Go!" at the end of the countdown. Those dogs definitely know their countdowns.

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The Chena Hot Springs Resort, a little over an hour east of Fairbanks along a somewhat icy road, was next on our list. In addition to the natural hot springs, the resort also has a variety of other activities, and being a big greenie, the one that I always do is a free geothermal tour showcasing their generators and greenhouses. The generators also help to cool a year round ice museum maintained by a very talented couple, Steve and Heather Brice, where if you dare, you can actually pay to spend a night in a room in the "ice hotel".

Driving back toward Fairbanks, we had a few observers by the side of the road (moose!). And because no trip is complete without a bit of local brew, we swung a few miles north to have some delicious Alaskan beer and dinner from the Silver Gulch Brewery. Mmm, beer!

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Returning to town, we were back just in time to re-enter the World Ice Art Competition grounds, because one thing you must do for the full experience is see the ice art during daylight as well as at night. With colorful lights shining on it, the ice takes on a completely different life. And by the time I finished looking at the sculptures with my friends, the Aurora Borealis was showing off and tempting us back north of town to where it was truly dark.

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With one last day and an evening flight creeping up on us, we went to the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum, which is seasonally open on Sundays and has vehicles going all the way back to before 1900. I am not even a car person and I loved this place! Did you know that brakes used to cost $10 extra with some car models? The autos were beautifully maintained and put together with informative displays and period vintage clothing.. Alaskans have their own special part in the story this museum tells as well, with vehicles built in Alaska, some of which were adapted with special tracks to go on snow.

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We skipped lunch both days, opting for large brunches at Sam's Sourdough Cafe and The Cookie Jar, two popular breakfast spots (be prepared to wait at the Cookie Jar especially!). To enjoy some local flavor, try the sourdough pancakes with a side of reindeer sausage, or a moose burger!


Though you can't plan on running into wildlife or seeing the Aurora, Fairbanks is a really unique place to go, and I highly recommend it for a future spring getaway.

-Liz Aderhold, Graphic Designer