What do two Southerners do with free time visiting Fairbanks in winter?
Get outside and go exploring! The temperature was in the +15 degree range, the sky was clear and beautiful and we had a full day with nothing on the agenda – other than to replace a camera remote release cable the just didn’t hold up in over two hours -15 degree shooting conditions the night before. Quick side note: Fairbanks has a great camera store – Alaska Camera – with a knowledgeable and helpful sale staff. They rent equipment too if you are coming up to shoot the Aurora Borealis. Oh, and no sales tax in Alaska. So put on a few extra layers, unplug your rental car and go exploring.
We asked around and several people recommended visiting Ice Alaska for the BP Ice Art Championships. The 2014 schedule is from February 20th to March 10th. I don’t know what we were expecting, but it was worth the visit. If you are expecting buffet ice sculptures, you are in for a surprise! The sculptures truly are world-class and large – large enough to walk through. We were able to see a few of the teams carving. Teams were from around the world and each brought its own style to the competition. Take your time, plan on a couple of hours to explore. They have an indoor snack area with coffee and hot chocolate to warm you up before you venture back out to explore some more.
A few other areas that are worth exploring. Drive up to the University of Alaska at Fairbanks campus and explore a bit. The views from the campus across the Tanana River Valley are worth it. We also drove out Chena Pump Road to the Tanana Wayside and Boat Launch on the Tanana River. We had fun exploring the park and along the frozen river. We are always on the lookout for a great photograph and the chance to explore Fairbanks with beautiful weather was too much to resist. If you are interested in shooting the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, check out an earlier post written by Melissa.
A few words of caution. If you are not from Alaska, then visiting Fairbanks in winter will require a little planning. Think carefully before going off of main roads or even very far out-of-town if you do not know where you are going. Expect compact snow and ice on almost all the roads – use good winter driving skills and you will be fine. Plug your car in at the hotel, having an easy to start, warm car, is worth the effort. Have plenty of warm clothes, extra food and water and use a little common sense when out exploring. Remember, the days are short during the winter. If you are at all uncomfortable, find one of the tour groups who will take care of everything.
Logistics require a little additional planning. We reserved a four-wheel drive vehicle from Hertz and the confidence when chasing the Aurora Borealis at midnight in a four-wheel drive was worth it. We stayed at the Hampton Inn in Fairbanks, and would highly recommend this location.