FAIRBANKS — Seeing as how this is Thanksgiving, I figured I’d give you something to chew on while the turkey is cooking by unveiling my annual Winter List Of Things To Do.
It’s an annual tradition of mine in an attempt to provide extra motivation to get out and enjoy the outdoors, even when it’s cold, dark and the thought of buying a plane ticket to Hawaii begins to creep into my light-deprived brain.
If there is a sure cure for Seasonal Affective Disorder, it’s a Winter List of Things To Do. You won’t have time to get depressed because you’ll be too busy trying to scratch things off your list.
It’s not until winter is over, and you realize you didn’t accomplish squat, that the real depression sets in, but by that time winter is over and it’s time to focus on failing to accomplish what is on your Summer List Of Things To Do.
It all makes sense in a twisted, Mowry sort of way.
But hey, at least I have goals. I’m not sitting on the couch watching TV or playing video games or sitting at the bar drinking beer.
As I say ever year, the worst thing that can happen is you fail to accomplish everything on your list. Who knows, maybe you’ll surprise yourself and scratch a few things off your list. Maybe winter will go by a little quicker and you’ll be a little happier.
So make a list, whether it’s for yourself or the whole family, and stick it somewhere you will see it every day, like the refrigerator door or the toilet seat.
Here, in no particular order, are 20 things I want to do this winter.
Go to Hutlinana Hot Springs
I’ve been to Tolovana Hot Springs a few times now, and it’s time for a change. From what I hear, Hutlinana Hot Springs, located about six miles off the Elliott Highway, isn’t quite as comfortable as Tolovana, i.e. you have to pitch a tent instead of stay in a heated cabin, and there are no tubs to sit in, but it would be a lot cheaper and more rustic, both of which are right up my alley.
Ride a fat bike
While the rest of the country is on an anti-obesity kick, mountain bikers in Alaska are embracing fat, as in fat-tired bikes. Josh Spice at Far North Fatbikes extended an invitation to try out one of his rental fat bikes last winter and I never took him up on it. I’m going to check to see if the offer still stands.
Go for a moonlight ski or run
It’s one of the few things on my list every year that I actually accomplish. This winter’s full moons will be on Nov. 28; Dec. 28; Jan. 26; Feb. 25; and March 27. Mark them on your calendar and get out and howl at the moon.
Ski/skijor all the groomed trails
It’s been on my list a few times now and it’s still here because I have yet to do it. This includes but is not limited to the trails at Birch Hill Recreation Area, University of Alska Fairbanks West Ridge, Salcha Elementary School, Two Rivers Elementary School, Pearl Creek Elementary School, Chena Lakes Recreation Area, Jeff Studdert Racegrounds, Creamer’s Field and North Star Golf Course. I’m wondering if anyone in Fairbanks has ever done this in one winter?
Go backcountry cabin hopping
in the White Mountains
It’s been a few years since I’ve been into the White Mountains National Recreation Area, which is way too long. I still want to visit Windy Gap Cabin, which is supposed to be the prettiest — and hardest to get to — of the dozen backcountry cabins in the White Mountains.
Volunteer for the Fairbanks
Christmas Bird Count
As I stated last year, there are worse ways to spend a Saturday than counting birds in the woods for a good cause. This year’s count is scheduled for Dec. 29. Contact the Arctic Audubon Society at email@example.com if you’re interested in participating.
Build a pulk sled
I bought a sled to do this almost two years ago but the sled wasn’t beefy enough so I put it on the backburner. I’m going to buy a sturdier sled and give it another shot this year.
Run with the reindeer
We did this last year when we went down to Anchorage for the Tour of Anchorage ski race, and it was a hoot. You line up on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage with a few hundred other people and run down the street in front of about a dozen rambunctious reindeer. Actually, the chances of getting gored seemed pretty minimal considering the reindeer were a lot faster than me and passed me right off the bat.
Ski across the Denali HIghway
It may be biting off more than I can chew, but we skied in about six miles in from the Cantwell end last spring and both the weather and trail conditions were awesome. Granted, skiing 135 miles is a little more hardcore than skiing 12, but, if I can find somebody who wants to tag along with a snowmachine or two and haul a wall tent and camping gear, it would be feasible on a three- or four-day weekend when it warms and brightens up in April. If I complete the Alaska Nordic Grand Slam I should be in shape.
Complete the Alaska
Nordic Grand Slam
This consists of skiing all four of Alaska’s ski marathons — the 50-kilometer Tour of Anchorage, the 40K Kachemak Bay Nordic Ski Marathon in Homer, the 50K Oosik Classic in Talkeetna and the 50K Sonot Kkaazoot — during four consecutive weekends in March. It’s been done by a handful of people before, and rumor has it this year a special belt buckle will be awarded to those who do it, though I have yet to verify that rumor. I’ve done three of the four each of the past three years. The only one I’m missing is the Kachemak Bay Nordic Ski Marathon in Homer, which I’ve heard is beautiful and challenging.
Take a 40 below photo
You know the one I’m talking about: Standing in front of a digital thermometer in a bathing suit when it reads 40-something below. I’ve lived in Fairbanks for 23 winters and I’ve never taken one. Last January — the coldest January on record in more than 100 years — would have been the time to do it, but I’m betting the temperature will drop to 40 below at some point this winter, too. When it does, I’ll break out the Speedo.
Ski into Denali National Park and Preserve
I don’t know why it took me so long to add this one to my list, since skiing into the park seems like a no-brainer. I should have mushed into the park when I was doing the dog sledding thing years ago but never did. Now that I’m into skiing, I’ll have to rely on human power instead. Whether it’s a day trip or an overnighter, it will be interesting to see what the park looks like covered in snow and devoid of tourists. And, you don’t have to worry about getting eaten by a bear.
Look for northern lights
The longer you live in Alaska, the more you take certain things for granted, and the aurora borealis is one of them, or maybe I’m just getting older and go to bed too early now to see them. Whatever the case, I’m going to make a more concerted effort this winter to enjoy some late-night aurora.
Go ice fishing
If you’re a true Fairbanksan, you have to go out at least once a winter and sit in the cold for a few hours in hopes of catching a few 10-inch trout. The good news is that there might be a few more fish to catch in Birch, Chena and Quartz lakes now that the Ruth Burnett Sport Fish Hatchery in Fairbanks is finally up and running.
Check out UAF’s new ice climbing tower
I didn’t do it last year when the tower opened, even though Mark Oldmixon, director for UAF’s Department of Recreation, Adventure and Fitness, invited me to do so. This year, I’m going to take him up on his offer and bring my 14-year-old son along for a night of climbing. I’ve never gone ice climbing — or rock climbing for that matter — so it should be interesting.
Go paddling in the pool
This is the year I scratch this one off my list. Hamme Pool opens to paddlers in canoes and kayaks on Monday nights starting in January, and it’s open through mid-May. What better way to combat the cold and dark of Fairbanks in January and February than paddle around in a warm pool for a couple of hours? It’s not like I’m trying to learn how to Eskimo roll. And I own an inflatable kayak so I don’t even have to load a boat on top of my car.
Tour a trapline.
Randy Zarnke of the Alaska Trappers Association read me the riot act last year when I didn’t put anything on my list that involved trapping,and I took his concerns to heart. This has been on my list a few times over the years but for whatever reason I’ve never managed to pull it off. While trapping may not appeal to everyone, it’s an important part of Alaska’s history and culture. It would be interesting to see what a day on “the line” was like.
Visit all three of Fairbanks’ downhill ski areas
My 14-year-old son accomplished this one last year but not me. I have yet to ski at Birch Hill Ski and Snowboard Area on Fort Wainwright or Mount Aurora Skiland on Cleary Summit, the latter of which I hear is the steepest of the three hills in Fairbanks. Maybe that has something to do with the fact you get to ride a warm bus to the top of Moose Mountain while you have to ride a chilly chairlift at Birch Hill and Skiland.
Ski to and spend the night in a glacier hut
The Alaska Alpine Club maintains three glacier huts in the Delta Range — the Thayer Hut on the Castner Glacier and the Lower Canwell and MacKeith huts on the Canwell Glacier. It’s first-come, first-served, so you’d have to plan it right, and it would require at least a seven-mile ski up either glacier, but it would be more of a wilderness experience than skiing into a cabin in the White Mountains. The U.S. Geological Survey hut at the top of the Gulkana Glacier is also a possibility, and we could snowmachine to that one.
Go spring caribou hunting
in the Brooks Range
This one might be a little extreme given the time and effort — driving north on the Dalton Highway for 300 miles and skiing at least five miles off the road — it would take to pull it off, but it sounds easy sitting here writing about it. I’ve never done a trip in the Brooks Range and this would be a chance to get some meat out of the deal. I can use my pulk sled to haul it out.
Contact outdoors editor Tim Mowry at 459-7587. If he’s not there, he’s probably out trying to scratch something off his list.