First Impressions of Alaska

Cross-country skiing in Alyeska

Cross-country skiing in Alyeska

 

Their State Flag is my favorite, that symbolizes ‘North to the Future’. Alaska, a state of the Last Frontier, is a whole new world.

 

Once I reconciled with winter, I spent a good three weeks in the North Country, Alaska. I wanted to experience a true winter, and also I missed good snow and winter scenery. This year, the weather was ‘unreasonably warm’ by Alaskan standards. Funny, while the East Coast was stuck with this thing called the ‘Polar Vortex’ and experienced the harshest winter in years, Anchorage was a whopping 45 degrees and above zero, even in the Arctic. Nonetheless, it was a gorgeous winter with lots of snow, hoarfrost, dog mushing, and beautiful mountains.

 

Bears hibernate, Alaskans don’t

There’s no excuse to put on winter weight in Alaska. Because the winter is eight months long, Alaskans are used to doing work out at night, regardless of the cold temperatures. One of my many goals for the Alaska trip was to go cross-country skiing in Anchorage. Because I had my own schedule during the day, and so did my friends, we agreed to go skiing after work hours. But I was a bit skeptical about the timing. The sun sets at about 4 pm, and it seemed unlikely we could ski at that time of the day.

We went to the Tony Knowles costal trail, about a 5-minute drive away from their place. The whole trail was perfectly lit, plowed, and there were many people and their dogs on the trail, skiing, walking, running, and biking.

Bears might hibernate in the winter, but Alaskans surely know how to keep themselves active year round.

Dan at the Hatcher Pass

Dan at the Hatcher Pass

Alaskan pride

Maybe because of its location, or maybe because the statehood only started in 1955, or because of its Arctic climate, Alaska seems like a different world from other parts of the country, or the ‘lower 48′ as Alaskans call it. Regardless of the length of Statehood, Alaska is vastly diverse and rich with its native culture. ‘Alaskan made’ is the symbol of high-quality products, also the pride. Some people call themselves (jokingly or not) Alaskan American.

 

Safe for the solo traveler

One of the first impressions I got from Alaska was that everyone was quite friendly. Despite the fact that Anchorage is a large city with 300,000 people, it doesn’t seem that way. Everyone knows everyone, they always catch up when they run into each other, there are not many high-rise buildings, and people don’t hesitate to help others on the street. Trust and kindness are deep in Alaskans’ daily life.

In winter, you’ll see parked cars with running engines. Because of the harsh winter, people often can’t turn off their cars, otherwise you may get stuck for a long time. However, no one seemed to worry about someone stealing their car.

I didn’t feel threatened at any time throughout the state. There is always a tour program for anything you can think of, if you don’t want to travel alone to a remote place. Highly recommended to female solo travelers!

 

There are a lot of moose

Moose are a part of life in Alaska. They come to people’s front yardS for the food, walk on the street, and sometimes surprise drivers on the highway. If you look hard enough, it is not hard to spot one or two moose in Alaska. In winter, females move with their yearling. Also it will be easy to notice that the moose is the state animal (state mammal, to be exact). Expect to see moose-themed souvenirs. Remember don’t walk toward them; they look comical, but the encounter can be deadly. They don’t like surprises.

Yearling moose spotted near the Chena Hotsprings, Fairbanks

Yearling moose spotted near the Chena Hotsprings, Fairbanks

Expect to see some characters

I met several people who spent time in Alaska over the years, and they told me “Go to Alaska if you want to get married soon. But expect some characters!” Apparently the gender ratio is highly uneven (especially in a place like Coldfoot on Dalton Highway).

When I landed at the Anchorage airport, the thing I noticed was a guy sleeping on the luggage claim conveyer belt. He looked comfortable, and people around him couldn’t care less. It was early in the morning, but still it was shocking a little. Friends I met at the airport said “That? I’m not surprised”. That was the very first character I ran into, and it didn’t end there. It’s good to be different, right?

 

Expect a beautiful summer

As much as I enjoyed the winter wonderland, I couldn’t help but promise myself to come back here in the summer. People often think Alaska is cold year round, but it’s not true. It was almost hard to believe all the snow-covered mountains would turn into meadows and flower-covered fields. Places like Fairbanks have almost 140 degrees’ temperature difference each season. Except for the deep Arctic, Alaska turns the brightest blue and green in the summer, and full of life. That’s what 24 hours of sun does.

Marge at the Native Heritage Center, Anchorage

Marge at the Native Heritage Center, Anchorage

It’s diverse

I was pleasantly surprised by Anchorage’s diversity. Because it has been a gateway for a lot of the Asian population throughout the century, there are many Asians living in Alaska. While most of the population speaks English, there are about 90 different languages spoken in Anchorage alone, in schools, homes, among friends. Asian languages (Korean, Chinese), Spanish, Indo-European languages, and Native Alaskan (Inupiat, Yu’pik, etc.) are regularly used.

Not just culturally, Alaska offers a lot to suit everyone’s needs. In winter, there will be options for any kind of activity you want: skiing (cross-country, down hill), snow-shoeing, snowmobile driving, you name it.

Dress casual

Business meetings aside, Alaska didn’t make me feel like I had to dress up. I dress casual most of the time, but I have to confess, I pay more attention to what I wear when I go to big cities like Seoul, New York, or Kuala Lumpur. But in Alaska, people don’t seem to care what other people wear. Everyone bundles up anyway, and casual outfits are quite common due to their outdoor-friendly culture.

 

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About Juno Kim

20 Responses to “First Impressions of Alaska”

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  1. Jen says:

    I have been looking forward to reading all of you tales from Alaska after seeing your photos on Instagram. It sounds like a really awesome place to experience both in winter and summer. Looking forward to more stories soon.

  2. Stephen says:

    Alaskan American! I love that! Does that make me Pennsylvanian-American?

  3. Abby says:

    Every photo more beautiful than the last. I’ve always wanted to go to Alaska!

  4. I LOVE Alaska. My best friend was stationed at the air force base in Anchorage and I went to visit her two summers in a row. The summers there are just magical! Everything is so bright. Everything is so blue. Everything is so big! Now I want to check it out in the winter, too!

  5. That’s so great that you made it to Alaska! We would really love to take an Alaskan cruise someday.

  6. Rob says:

    Great story. Beautiful photos!

  7. Rod Austin says:

    You make winters sound delightful, that’s something coming from someone who lives in Montana. Lovely post!

  8. Alex says:

    I am dying to go to Alaska someday. I always wanted to take a cruise!

  9. DebbZie says:

    what a journey! Great pictures too :D
    Alaska is indeed very beautiful. I also enjoyed every second of my trip.
    But next time I’d love to visit it during winter because I love snow and it looks so much fun

  10. Laura says:

    Looks like fun. We’ve been talking recently about going to Alaska. I think we have to move it up on the list!

  11. Poppy says:

    I’d love to go to Alaskan in summer but it seems like you got really lucky with the winter weather. 45F is definitely a temperature I could handle!

    • Juno Kim says:

      This year was unseasonably warm, according to everyone I met! But 0F isn’t so bad in dry climate like Fairbanks! Winter is definitely a good time to visit Alaska!

  12. We spent 5 days in Alaska, most of the time in Healy near Denali Nat’l Park, between Christmas and New Year’s one year. It was frigid, we didn’t see the sun at all (only the sky changed colors), but we had the most amazing time! It has been one of our most enjoyable vacations/trips ever. We made the most of our 5 hours of daylight (snowshoeing, x-country skiing, etc.) and then curled up in a cozy inn when it was dark. We have to return at some point for the summer, which we hear is glorious.

  13. Jaryd says:

    Dammn it, now its on my list. I think I may go for some backcountry snowmobiling and snowboarding. I am glad to hear the genuineness of the people for the ease of solo travel, cheers

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