Alaska Is a Winter Wonderland
If you're looking for a trip that takes you far outside your comfort zone, head north—far north
By Hilary Meyerson January 30, 2020
The summer cruise ships out of Seattle are blissfully absent in winter, and it’s a great time for Seattleites to head to the Land of the Midnight Sun. There’s a lot to cram into the few daylight hours, and the long nights make for some nocturnal fun—don’t miss the northern lights (see page 40). Fly into Anchorage, then pick and choose from this wintertime itinerary:
Hit the slopes
Just 40 miles southeast of Anchorage is Girdwood, home of Alyeska Resort. There, adventurers can glide over mounds of fluffy powder within view of Turnagain Arm, a branch of the Cook Inlet. (There aren’t many places you can ski with a view of the ocean!) Don’t be fooled by a lower-elevation ski area: The snow is deep, the slopes are challenging, and the lines are short. Do you like waking at the crack of dawn to be first on the lift? If so, this isn’t the place for you—lifts open at a relatively late 10:30 a.m., thanks to the shorter days, so sleep in and enjoy a leisurely breakfast before hitting the slopes.
Though there’s half a dozen dining options at the resort, head into Girdwood (there’s a shuttle from Alyeska) to try the Cajun food at the Double Musky, a local institution.
PORT APPEAL: Coastal Ketchikan is known for its colorful totem poles.
Experience glacial splendor
Frozen lakes and the otherworldly blue ice of glaciers are distinctive Alaska winter phenomena, and you need to see them before they’re gone. Check out either the Skookum or Spencer Glacier, both located near Girdwood, by snowmobile; if you’re lucky, you’ll get to stand in a sci-fi-esque glacier ice cave. There are numerous guides and outfitters that will pick you up at your hotel, outfit you in gear and get you on your own “snow machine” (that’s Alaskan for snowmobile).
Wander the winter coast
The Kenai Peninsula is a popular warm(er)-weather destination, but if you’re game for some cold-weather touring, rent a good four-wheel-drive vehicle and travel an hour and a half from Girdwood to Seward, where the Alaska SeaLife Center sits on the shore of Resurrection Bay. It’s the only facility in Alaska that combines a public aquarium with marine research, education and wildlife response. You can get a close look at puffins, octopuses, harbor seals, sea lions and other marine life. The Exit Glacier is another hot spot (OK, a chilly spot) to visit in summer; in winter, take a dogsledding tour to the glacier and get firsthand experience in this supremely Alaskan form of transportation.
Alyeska Resort’s majestic lobby. Photo by Ralph Kristopher.
A three-hour drive south around the peninsula’s western curve will take you to Homer, the self-proclaimed halibut fishing capital of the world. You won’t be taking a charter boat in winter, but the beaches are stunning year-round, as are the food options. The Homer Spit is a long beach peninsula, pleasantly quiet in winter and definitely worth a look. Check out the Salty Dawg Saloon at the end of the spit: a dive bar institution originally built in 1897 and adorned with the hanging dollar bills of countless patrons.