Monday, February 11, 2013

A Dog Mushing Alaskan Adventure

More and more people are becoming aware of the Iditarod race.  Some even make the trip up to try to experience a little bit of the race excitement at the start and finish lines, and even in some of the small checkpoint towns along the way.  But how can you experience the sport in an even more personal manner?  Why not visit some of the mushers themselves, learn more about the animals, and even take a ride on a sled yourself?  The Innkeepers of the Alaska Bed and Breakfast Association invite you to be our guests during your dogsled mushing adventure!

Photo by travelalaska.com
Some dog breeds are just not happy unless they are working, and it's true that mushing dogs are working dogs.  So what does a musher do with his or her team in between big races?  To keep the animals in shape and happily working, many mushers offer mushing experiences and tours for visitors and tourists.  Whether you want to just see the animals and the equipment, or hop onto a mushing sled itself, a large variety of options are available all over the state.  Your Alaska bed and breakfast innkeeper will be glad to point you to the nearest place for the perfect dog mushing experience!


Mushing Experiences for Tourists
No matter when you visit, there is an opportunity to either learn about the dogs and the sport of mushing, or to experience it first-hand.  Guests are always thrilled to see the dogs up close, and to feel what it's like to be on a sled:  and unforgettable experience that is finding its way onto more and more "bucket lists."

Canine Meet-and-Greets
Owners often open their dog yards to visitors, letting them meet the team and learn all about the animals.  Guests see how the dogs are kept warm in the winter and cool in the summer, learn how the animals are trained and what they eat, and much more.  If your trip is timed right, puppy-cuddling and playtime may also be included in the experience!

Sample Mushing Rides
Owners may hook up their teams to give visitors a taste of the Alaska's State Sport.   This experience is sometimes combined with the Canine Meet-and-Greet activity.

Mushing Tours
Tours can range from part of an hour to most of a day (or more)!  You are usually introduced to the tools, the dogs, and shown the basics before the on-sled tour starts.  During a tour, you are usually handed the reins to experience the thrill for yourself.  Sometimes the mushing tour is just one part of a larger experience, while other times it IS the experience!  Outerwear is often provided for cold-weather runs, but check with your chosen tour company to be sure.

Winter Dogsled Tours
Photo from BBIC Member
Minnie Street B&B
Of course, this is the most "realistic" tour of all:  standing on a sled with a team of talented canines whisking you across the winter snows.  You may visit parks, part of the Iditarod trail, or even somewhere even more remote.

Flightseeing/Mushing
A combined experience often takes guests to a remote area of the state, whether it be onto a glacier, into a park, or to other sites.  Guests are flown into the location, and the dogsled team is waiting there to either return guests to their starting point, or offer a sledding experience there at the remote location before guests are flown back from whence they started.  These tours can often be done in the summer as well as the winter.

Summer Dogsled Tours
Some handlers continue to work their teams through the summer by way of a wheeled cart which the dogs gladly pull over wilderness trails where you can both enjoy the dog-sledding experience and see the area flora and fauna.  As always, visits to the dog yards and cuddling with the young pups is included!  Mushing experiences are available all over the state.  Most can be found in the Interior near Fairbanks, where the largest population of mushers reside.  The South Central area is probably the next most populous where mushers are concerned.  However, your Alaska bed and breakfast innkeeper can guide you to nearby dog sledding experience, no matter what part of the state you decide to visit!

Enjoying a vacation here in Alaska might be considered the very best way to "get away from it all."  And what better way to enjoy the time here than to spend it at one of our numerous bed and breakfasts? Choose an inviting room in any of our member inns and know that comfort and warmth await you after your dog-sledding activities.  So plan your Alaskan vacation today and we'll make sure you have the time of your life!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Bird-Watchers Will Love Alaska's Birding Events

Does a quick call and flutter of wings have you looking for the culprit? Does the thought of flying aloft on high currents strike your romantic side? Do you own a birdbath or bird feeder? Hello there, birdwatcher! Welcome to the ranks of over 51 million people who claim to actively watch birds, and the millions more who enjoy seeing them from day-to-day who never even think of themselves as “birdwatchers” (or “birders“)!

Birds delight through their beautiful plumage, amusing songs, and their ability to fly. It’s no wonder man has such an interest! It can be argued that birding is the least expensive hobby a person can get into. Aside from your eyes and ears, you only REALLY need to bird watch paper and pencil to track your finds. From there, like many other hobbies and sports, it depends on what you want to make of it. Binoculars and field guides are the next logical step to help you see and identify bird species better. Some go as far as high-powered scopes and sound amplification devises to make sure they can catch sight of the birds they seek. Whether you are an active birdwatcher for sport, or simply love the sight and sounds of birds going about their daily routine, member inns of the Alaska Bed and Breakfast Association invite you to enjoy a bird watching vacation with us!


Here in Alaska, our wide-open spaces and expansive natural habitat provide the perfect setting for bird watching. And when you choose a bed and breakfast lodging option, the setting is even more perfect, as most are set away from the more populated areas. Really, are you more likely to spot birds in downtown Anchorage where the hotels are, or the outlying communities that are home to our bed and breakfasts, where the lakes and nature are only a short walk away? Do hotels provide porches and gardens from which to actively watch area birds? Isn’t the ability to step outside your cozy inn, straight into the natural surroundings more supportive of birding than stepping outside a hotel into the urban bustle?

Imagine waking to a delicious breakfast at your chosen bed and breakfast, stepping outside to observe the bird activities of the morning, attending the local birding festival, and then returning to your chosen inn to walk the grounds or the area to find even more species that are native to Alaska. No matter what time of day or year, a B and B lodging option is the perfect place from which to enjoy your bird-watching activities. And we welcome you to our homes!

Alaska is also home to some great Bird Festivals for all bird-watching interests. Whether you enjoy the sport in general, or have interest in a single species, we have a gathering for you. Each festival is located close to some of our member inns. Whether you come for the festival only, or extend your Alaskan vacation to view birds native to the area, a bed and breakfast is the ideal lodging option to support your bird watching fun!

We offer the following list of birding events to help you coordinate your Alaskan birding vacation. We invite you to click on the corresponding city links to see which of our member inns is the best pick for your lodging option!


April
April, 2013 (all month):  Alaska Hummingbird Festival - Ketchikan, AK
April heralds the return of Hummingbirds to Alaska. This celebration at the Southeast Alaska Discover Center includes kid’s activities, hikes, art, and more.

April 25-28, 2013:  Stikine River Birding Festival - Wrangell, AK
Celebrating the birds (including bald eagles) that come to the River each year to feed on the ‘hooligan’. Take part in seminars and activities for the whole family.


May
May, 2012 (date has not yet been announced as of this post):
Upper Tanana Migratory Bird Festival - Tok, AK
A single day of celebration at the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge including activities, art competition, live bird presentation, and a morning bird tour.

May 2-5, 2013:  Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival - Cordova, AK
A week-long celebration during the migratory birds' stopover in Cordova.  Enjoy seeing the birds, hiking, talks, and more.

May 4, 2013:  Spring Migration Celebration - Fairbanks, AK
Another celebration of the spring migration at the Creamer's Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge.  A free event with games, crafts, birding, and more for the whole family, sponsored by five Alaskan and US birding and wildlife organizations.
May 9-12, 2013:  Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival - Homer, AK
Celebrating of the avian stopover to Kachemak Bay. See a wide variety of bird species including puffins, terns, curlew, stint, and more. Activities for the whole family will be available.

May 16-19, 2013:  Kenai Birding Festival - Kenai, AK
A family-friendly event to celebrate the migration. Kids’ activities, guided tours, and more.

May 30-June 2, 2013:  Yakutat Tern Festival - Yakutat, AK
See one of the most populous Aleutian Tern breeding colonies in the US and enjoy guided tours, cultural events, art, talks, and kids’ activities.


August
August 23-25, 2013:  Tanana Valley Sandhill Crane Festival - Fairbanks, AK
Celebrating the fall migration of the Sandhill Crane. A family-friendly event featuring seminars, nature walks, photography workshops, banding demonstration, and more.


November
November 11-17, 2013:  Alaska Bald Eagle Festival - Haines, AK near Glacier Bay
This time of year sees thousands of Bald Eagles feeding on late-running salmon at the Alaska Bald Eagle Preserve.  Activities include photography workshops, cultural tours, demonstrations, speakers, entertainment, banquets, and more!




Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Alaska Bed and Breakfast Gift Certificates For Your Giving Needs

Put your last-minute shopping woes aside with a gift certificate to your favorite Alaska bed and breakfast!


Offering unparalleled lodging in gorgeous natural surroundings, our member inns offer a perfect vacation option here in the Last Frontier.  Unique ambiance, comfortable rooms, great amenities, and Alaskan hospitality await that special someone!

Gift certificates are commonly available in any and all dollar amounts, and we will be glad to help you create the perfect gift.  Whether you need a gift for the a holiday, birthday, or any other occasion, our member innkeepers can offer advice and ideas to help!  So contact your favorite Alaska inn and you'll have everyone crossed off your gift list in no time!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

More Than Just A Race: Alaska's Iditarod Dog Sled Event




Most of the world knows it as a March dog sled race from Anchorage in South Central Alaska to Nome on the west side of the Far North region.  However it is more than "just a race" to the locals:  this Last Great Race is THE sporting event of the year!  Your bed and breakfast innkeepers would like to provide some basic information about Iditarod and what is involved in this major Alaskan event, and we welcome you to come personally see what this event is all about!

The Iditarod Trail Committee
This group does so much more than host a "small" dog race each year.  This group works relentlessly to round up volunteers as a workforce, raise the $2 million it takes to put on the event, sets up communications and logistics for the race itself, keeps the trail marked and intact during the race, and even spreads education about the sport itself.  The team provides the means for both US and foreign students to watch and track the race, both through the www.iditarod.com website, and through the Teachers On The Trail program which uses the race itself to present real-world problem solving methods.  We can't say enough about this amazing group and all their efforts to keep this landmark event alive!

About Dog Sledding
Popular in most areas of the world with Arctic conditions, dog sledding is both a means of transportation and a recreational sport.  A team of sled dogs are outfitted with harnesses through which tuglines (or ropes that keep the dogs attached to both other team members and the sled) are attached.  These lines route back to the sled at the rear, which carries the musher (or human team captain) and any supplies required for travel.

Like many other instances, this form of transportation and sport has evolved into a series of competitive events, producing fame for the participants, and legions of followers of the spectators.  Much like NASCAR drivers in the lower 48, our mushers and their teams are practically celebrities, making mushing the official state sport.

At the start of any race, a dog sled team may include a large number of animals.  Members of the pack can be removed from the team for whatever reason (injury, exhaustion, etc.), but no new members may be added.  In the case of Iditarod, the teams are made up of 16 dogs at the start of the race.  Dogs may be removed from a team during a race if they encounter health problems, injuries, or exhaustion:  these animals are carried on the sled itself to prearranged "dog drop" locations, at which point the animal(s) are taken to care facilities until after the race (more on this below).  Of course, the goal is to keep the team strong and finish with as many members as possible!  In the case of Iditarod, a team MUST have at least six dogs actively pulling the sled at the race's end for a team to qualify for placement; other races may or may not have similar requirements for finishing.

Photo by Steve Jurveston from Menlo Park, USA through Creative Commons

Iditarod History

The Last Great Race on Earth runs along the trail used by the Athabaskan and Inupiaq peoples long before "foreigners" came to The New World.  This trail would eventually be named Iditarod after one of the towns on this path.  During the Alaskan Gold Rush, miners who arrived from the US mainland discovered the Iditarod trail and used it as their main thoroughfare into the upper reaches of the state. Dog sledding was widely used as the main form of transportation into the outlying regions of the state through the 1950's, the invention of the snowmobile in the 1960's the dog sledding tradition to be abandoned for this faster method of travel.

While there have been a number of other races run along this very trail in the past, the modern-day Iditarod race was begun in 1973 in support of designating the route of our earliest settlers into a National Historic Trail, and to preserve the tradition of mushing.

The popularity and recognition of the event grew after the first female (a long-shot, no less), Libby Riddles, won the race in 1985.  Today, upwards of 100 teams assemble for this popular event each year.  Most are still from the state of Alaska, although some notable teams are from mainland US, Norway, Denmark, Italy, and Austria.  In recent years, a Brazilian and a Jamaican trained to mush the dogs of famed mushers lance Mackey and Vern Halter.

The current record for finishing the race is 8:19:46:39 (Days:Hours:Minutes:Seconds).  This record was set during the 2011 event by the Native Alaskan John Baker.  The race has seen several multi-year winners including Rick Swenson who holds the record of most wins (five times over the course of 15 years), and Lance Mackey who won in four consecutive years from 2007-2010.  The youngest Musher to win the event is Dallas Seavy, a third-generation musher who won this year in 2012; in fact, his father and grandfather were also participating in the race!

Dates
The race traditionally starts on the first Saturday in March.  While the event starts earlier than the "start date" for those running (thanks to required classes, registration, and meetings), the dates that will be important for spectators this year are Saturday March 2, 2013 (the Start date) and Sunday March 3, 2013 (the Restart date).

Wait - start and restart?  Why yes.  The Start date is a ceremonial start in downtown Anchorage and follows a path through town.  You might actually call this part of the event a "Race Rehearsal," as the time spent running this 11-mile section through town to the foothills, and subsequent 29-mile highway section to the Eagle River in Willow, does not count towards the participants' actual race times.  This section of the race is more for show, and to let the public participate in the excitement of the event itself, as it is easiest for television crews and foreign visitors to be involved where there is ample lodging options and transportation.  It also gives the teams a chance to warm up and make sure everything is running smoothly for the actual race.

The Restart is the actual start of the timed race.  While the Iditarod Headquarters is located in Wasilla, complications in the form of private land ownership and required road crossings has made starting the race here both complicated in acquiring race right-of-ways, and dangerous for the teams.  Therefore the Restart point has been set to a town northwest of Wasilla:  Willow, AK is the last point on the highway where the race can proceed directly into the wilderness.  Teams are transported from Anchorage to Willow on Saturday in preparation for Sunday's Restart, and the race then commences.

When Does It End?
Basically, when the last active racer crosses the finish line, the race has finally ended.  Total finish times are usually within the 9- to 12-day range.  However, any race team finishing with a time longer than 14 days will miss the Awards Banquet on Sunday March 17 in Nome!

Route
As stated at the start of this post, the route runs from Anchorage to Nome and passes through nearly thirty "checkpoint" locations (usually in towns or villages).  At the Start, Restart, and Finish line, thousands of fans and enthusiasts are known to gather to experience the excitement of the event, and activities are televised from these locations.  Some spectators can even fly in or take snowmobiles to the various checkpoint locations, cheering on the teams as they pass, or welcoming the teams when they stop.

The race is traditionally known to be 1,049 miles - honoring Alaska's status as the 49th state admitted to the US.  However distance variations occur depending on whether the northern or southern route is used, and potential weather adjustments.

Wait - northern or southern route?  Why yes.  Whether you see it as "minimizing impact" or "spreading the wealth," two different routes exist through the Alaskan Interior for the race.  The northern route is run on even-numbered years, and the southern route is run on odd-numbered years.  In 2013, the race will follow the southern route through the town of Ititarod itself (a sentimental bonus for those running), Shageluk, Anvik, Grayling, and Eagle Island.

What Will The Teams Face?
Mushing teams must be hearty, brave, and strong, as they may encounter sled breakage, injury to musher or dogs, illness, encounters with moose, and a variety of weather and natural conditions.

 
Alaskan weather in March means potential below-zero temperatures and strong, cold winds making it feel even colder!  The landscape here can be dangerous and potentially life-threatening with mountains, forests, passage over frozen rivers, and long lonely trail between far-reaching populations (often villages of relatively few residents) that can instantly turn from friendly to hazardous.
 
Luckily, 26-27 checkpoints along the way both help race officials keep track of the racers, and allow the mushers to stop to make sure that their animals are healthy, well-fed with a warm meal cooked over a fire, and tucked into warm straw (which is more insulating than blankets) in outdoor quarters for a few hours or a night to rest.  Oh, and the musher can try to find a warm spot to warm up and nap in the limited, cramped quarters that may be available inside as well (obviously, the dogs have it much better during these stops than the mushers)!  Dog food, people food, and straw for bedding, which the mushers send ahead to specific checkpoints, are waiting for the teams when they arrive and help them continue toward their goal of finishing.  The racers are required to take at least three required rests at checkpoints along the way, including an 8-hour break at a checkpoint along the Yukon River, another at White Mountain, and one 24-hour layover at the location of their choice.

So Why Do It?
Besides the local fame that accompanies the sport, most mushers see the race as a complete challenge: of their mental abilities, team-handling skills, and physical endurance.  Those in the lower 49 may equate Iditarod to a marathon or triathlon, or any other type of extreme race that exists (usually in much more agreeable conditions than sub-freezing weather).  Of course, the cash prizes for the top placers, and the brand new pickup truck that also awaits the winner, are good additional incentives!

What About The Dogs?
Dog sledding often stirs up animal rights groups who say that the racing aspect constitutes abuse to the animals.  However, dog sledding can be equated to horse racing, dressage, and even canine agility competitions.  Dogs are historically bred to work, and of dogs are not allowed to do what they are bred for, they are often unhappy, overweight, and even develop behavioral issues.  In the case of dog sled teams, the dogs are bred and raised as athletes who not only need the exercise, but
show their enthusiasm to race by leaping several feet in the air as soon as they hear their musher coming to the dog team with harnesses in hand!

Photo by Jeff Shcultz at IditarodPhotos.com
Mushers are careful to keep their team healthy - after all, their dogs are just as much a part of their family as human relatives!  The bond between musher and team is strong, and the welfare and health of each animal is even more important to a musher than his own.
Before the race, volunteer veterinarians examine each and every dog for general health and wellness, and to be sure that none of the female team members are pregnant.  During the race, dogs wear booties and coats to help keep them protected from the snow, wind, and cold.  As mentioned above, any animal that is injured or tires out rides in the musher's sled basket until the team reaches a "dog drop" location where the dog is transported by the all-volunteer "Iditarod Airline" to Anchorage for care at Eagle River Women's Correction Center, where a carefully-selected group of inmates care for the dogs until the mushers return to Anchorage to retrieve the animal(s).
 
There are many more traditions and details that we could cover about the race, but why completely ruin it for those of you who want to learn about, and experience, the race for yourselves?  Member inns of the Bed and Breakfast Association of Alaska welcome you to our B and Bs in Anchorage (the race Start), Willow (the race Restart), and in Nome (the race's Endpoint).  Those inns that are not on the direct route welcome you to experience the excitement that settles over the entire state during these dates, and offer you a chance to see the televised events from the warmth and comfort of your welcoming lodge or cabin.  So make plans now to visit as our state "awakes from winter slumber" for Iditarod!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Discover Award Winning Beers at Alaska Brewerys and Brewpubs

Microbreweries and brewpubs hold a unique place in beverage production.  These small, independent businesses can concentrate on specific  flavors particular to their area, and specialize their product to the tastes of their customers, and themselves.  In fact, many people believe that the distinct microbrew experience is better than any "large brewery" product out there.  We are proud to say that the state of Alaska has a very successful and distinctive microbrewery and brewpub presence, and we invite you to discover the great beer flavors of our state during your bed and breakfast getaway!

What is the difference between a microbrewery and a brewpub?  A microbrewery is known as a "craft brewery" that produces less than 15,000 barrels per year.  As the name implies, a brewpub is an establishment that brews and sells beer on the premises - most brewpubs are also restaurants.  A brewpub can also be known as a microbrewery if they have significant distribution outside their own establishments.

Alaska's rich brewing history has evolved into a successful and award-winning regional businesses: each either a microbrewery or brewpub.  Each business has overcome challenges in obtaining materials and equipment to create amazing brews, developed a market base, and won awards for their products.  That they area able to do this in the Last Frontier of the United States is a testament to Alaskan tenacity and spirit.  When you partake of the microbrews in our state, you help the local businesses, and therefore the local people, keeping this spirit alive.

Alaska currently has 20 microbreweries and brewpubs located in the southeast, south central, southwest, and the Alaskan Interior.  All are members of the Brewers Guild of Alaska.  This organization represents members and promotes the industry through legislative advocacy, consumer education, and community events that feature made-in-Alaska beers.

Interior:
  • 49th State Brewing Company in Healey, and
  • Silver Gulch Brewing and Bottling Company in Fairbanks.
South Central:
  • Anchorage Brewing Company,
  • Arkose Brewing in Palmer,
  • Bear Tooth Theatrepub in Anchorage,
  • Denali Brewing Company & Twister Creek Restaurant in Talkeetna,
  • Glacier Brewhouse in Anchorage,
  • Homer Brewing in Homer,
  • Kassik's Kenai Brew Stop in Kenai,
  • Kenai River Brewing Company in Soldotna,
  • King Street Brewing Company in Anchorage,
  • Last Frontier Brewing Company in Wasilla,
  • Midnight Sun Brewing Company in Anchorage,
  • Moose's Tooth Pub and Pizzeria & Broken Tooth Brewing in Anchorage,
  • Snowgoose Restaurant & Pub & Sleeping Lady Brewing Company in Anchorage, and
  • Saint Elias Brewing Company in Soldotna.
Southeast:
  • Alaskan Brewing Co. in Juneau,
  • Haines Brewing Company in Haines, and
  • Skagway Brewing Company.
Southwest:
  • Kodiak Island Brewing Company.
The beer scene in our state is truly exciting.  But what are the best ways to experience all of Alaska's brews?  Area beers are featured at any number of eating and drinking establishments, and general events throughout the state, but there are three specific activities that beer-lovers will especially love:

Each January, the Great Alaska Beer and Barley Wine Fest takes place in Anchorage.  Celebrating its 19th anniversary in 2013, the event will take place on January 18 and 19.  Featuring more than 200 beers and barley wines from 50 brewers the United States and abroad, this festival pays special attention to local brews and is the perfect place to try them all!  Funds raised at the Festival support children with diabetes through diabetes screenings, counseling, summer camp programs, and other advocacy programs.

May welcomes the Great Alaskan Craft Beer and Home Brew Festival, on May 24-25 in 2013 at the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver.  Friday's event is the Gourmet Brewer's Dinner featuring a 5-course meal, with a specially paired craft beer featured during each course.  Saturday brings the Beerfest beer tasting opportunities with live music, food, and great beers!  Participants must be at least 21 years of age to participate in either event.  Tickets go on sale on February 1, 2013 - tickets always sell out before the event itself, so contact your favorite Alaska inn to reserve your room, and jump on the tickets once they go on sale!

In October, the Great Alaska Beer Train travels from Anchorage to Portage and back.  It features the amazing scenery of the Turnagain Arm, and a large assortment of local microbrews.  The $149 ticket buys you the trip, 6 half-pints of BrewHouse Beer, a large selection of finger-foods, and the opportunity to purchase several additional beers.

Member inns of the Bed and Breakfast Association of Alaska offer first-class amenities, hospitality, and accommodations for your Alaska beer discovery vacation.  No matter what time of year you visit, you can experience the amazing tastes of our state's brewing creations.  Your B and B innkeeper can direct you to the best nearby location to experience the brewed flavors of our state!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Take Advantage of Year-Round Fishing During Your Vacation in Alaska

Fish.  Alaska.  These two words immediately bring to mind some of the best fishing in the country.  With over 3 million lakes, 34,000 miles of coastline, 3,000 rivers, and countless fish-filled streams, Alaska boasts some of the best all-around fishing opportunities in the United States.  Whether you prefer fly-fishing, saltwater fishing, freshwater fishing, or even ice fishing, you can find it here.  When you stay at your favorite bed and breakfast inn, you are always close to Alaska's great angling options, no matter the time of year!

Fishing has been a major food source in the Alaskan culture since the first peoples arrived here.  Because of the short growing season, hunting and fishing have always been a food-source mainstay in the state.  Even today, our small communities' ways of life revolve around fishing, from Southeast where the coastal boats go out every day to ply the ocean, to villages on the Yukon (River) whose rhythms of life follow the salmon runs. The abundance of fish here, both in the oceans and in freshwater sources, makes it easy and economical to integrate fish as a major part of our diet.

There are so many options for fishing here.  It can be as easy as inexpensive and easy as pulling over at a stream and casting a line, as usual as taking a fishing tour, or as involved as chartering your own boat or plane to go to a remote camp or a fly-in lodge for the best angling locations. Some of our member inns area actually fly-in lodges offering great fishing and vacation experiences!

While it is said that the Alaskan waters are home to over 600 species of fish, you'll most likely be most interested in the 5 types of salmon, 5 types of trout, halibut, Dolly Varden, Grayling, Smelt, and Kokanee that inhabit our waters.  Many of these species can weigh up to hundreds of pounds!  While white King salmon are highly prized for their white flesh and mild flavor, halibut is actually the fish of choice for Alaskans for its buttery flaky taste and texture that just melts in your mouth.  If you happen to find some halibut at your area grocery store, why not try the recipe for Halibut Olympia presented after this post?

So what's biting when?  Prime fishing seasons are spring through fall.  However ice fishing is an option during the winter months.  Early summer is when King Salmon, Chinook Salmon, Saltwater Kings, and Halibut are plentiful.  Summer months are perfect for catching Sockeye Salmon, Pink Salmon (in even years only), and Rainbow Trout.  Fall is the best time to catch Silver Salmon.  Winter ice fishing may produce landlocked King and Silver Salmon, Rainbow Trout, Arctic char, and Dolly Varden.  Due to the hazards of ice fishing, we recommend a led trip with a guide who is familiar with the current ice thicknesses in the area.

If you aren't one to travel with your rod and reel in tow, there are plenty of places to purchase in almost every region.  Your BBAA innkeeper can direct you to the best nearby locations for casual fishing.  If you opt for a charter trip, most include all the equipment you'll need.  Even better, many charter trips offer filleting, freezing, and shipping so that you can enjoy your catch when you return home!  Another reason to take a guide, and it is THE reason we suggest it, is that state fishing regulations can be daunting.  Those guidelines listed above?  They are more than just suggestions.  In some cases, the state regulates catching certain fish to specific months, and our sport fishing guides are the best resource for this knowledge!  Also, emergency closures of tributaries or river systems to protect certain species can change with less than a day's notice, which is hard for anyone but those who are in the business to keep up on.

What do you need to fish in Alaska?  Besides the usual gear, all residents and nonresidents age 16+ must purchase a sport fishing license before dropping a line in the water.  If you are fishing for King Salmon, a stamp is also required.  Nonresident licenses cost $20 for a single day, $35 for a 3-day license, $55 for a week-long option, and $80 for a two-week license.  You can purchase your license online or visit area sporting goods stores or Fish and Game offices during your Alaska vacation.

There are also several large fishing derbies in the state that are important to their communities, and are popular activities for locals and visitors alike!  Many of these give out some large monetary prizes, prompting thousands of visitors to come participate.  Here is just a quick look at a couple of the more popular events.
  • Homer's Halibut Derby is an annual event lasting from mid-May through mid-Sepetmber, and offers prized ranging from $125 through $5,000.  Kids prizes are awarded, making this a great family activity!  This year a tagged fish was released with a $10,000 incentive for catching that one fish!  Sadly, this fish is still swimming in Alaskas waters today.
  • Valdez offers a number of Fishing Derbies offering prizes up to $15,000 throughout the summer months.  These include a Halibut Derby, Kids' Pink Salmon Derby, and two Silver Salmon derbies (one for women only).
  • While Pike are great for eating, they are predatory fish erroneously introduced into our state's lakes.  To help control their population, and hopefully someday eradicate this pest-fish, many communities offer Pike Derbies including Mat Su, Skwentna, Juneau, Houston, Soldotna, and more.  These derbies happen both in the spring and summer, AND during the winter as ice-fishing event.

Whether your interest lies in casual angling or competition fishing, we have it all!  Member inns of the Bed & Breakfast Association of Alaska look forward to hosting your fishing getaway!

Please note that during Salmon migration season, bear activity in rivers and streams increases.  Be on the lookout when fishing!



Halibut Olympia
While this dish seems very simple, it produces a luscious, creamy dish that Alaskans are crazy about!

Ingredients:

2 lb filet of halibut
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1 medium onion, sliced into rings
salt and pepper to taste

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Spray a baking dish with non-stick spray.  Place halibut in the baking dish and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  • Place rings of onion over the fish.
  • Mix mayonnaise and sour cream together and thickly spread over fish and onions, using all of the mixture.
  • Bake for 1 hour

Monday, September 3, 2012

A Winter Alaska Vacation? Why Not?

Summer is quickly coming to an end here in the Last Frontier.  In fact, the first kiss of real color is decorating the trees, turning the landscape into a beautiful kaleidoscope of red, orange, yellow, and green.  All too soon, the freezing will begin - we expect that to happen in just over a month in mid-October!

Have you ever thought about a great winter Alaskan bed and breakfast getaway?  What?  You say that you don't have the time? You say it's too cold?  You say there's just too much snow?  You say that it's dark 24 hours a day?  You say there's nothing to do?  Well the member inns of the Bed and Breakfast Association of Alaska would like to convince you to give us a try in the winter!

Time

Photo from A Moose in the Garden B&B
An Alaskan vacation is an actual vacation!  When most people plan a vacation, they plan on several days away from home/work/their usual lives.  While we are a bit off the beaten path, making a quick 3-day weekend trip impractical, 5+ day vacations are the perfect option for an Alaskan getaway!  Direct flights to the state (usually to Anchorage or Fairbanks) are available from many U.S and Foreign cities.  So it really isn't a big deal to just come on up to Alaska from just about anywhere!  Flights to Anchorage take approximately 2.5 hours from Seattle, 5 hours from Denver, 5.5 hours from Phoenix, and 6 hours from Chicago.

Snow
The popular belief of many lower-48-staters, and even of those throughout the world, is that it never stops snowing here in the winter.  But believe it or not, many place in our great state actually get LESS snow than, say, Buffalo and some portions of upstate New York!  Even Minneapolis gets more snowfall than some areas in our state!  Let's compare NOAA's 1981-2010 total numbers (in inches):

        Yakutat, AK    143.4
        Rochester, NY    99.5
        Buffalo, NY    94.7
        Anchorage, AK    74.5
        Juneau, AK    69.8
        Kodiak, AK    68.9
        Cleveland, OH    68.1
        Fairbanks, AK    65.0
        Salt Lake City, UT    56.2
        Minneapolis, MN    54.0
        Denver, CO    53.8
        Homer, AK    47.4
        Pittsburgh, PA    39.6
        Barrow, AK    37.7

Granted, just like there are areas in the lower US that receive little to no snow each year, there ARE places in Alaska that receive an exorbitant amount of snow - (anyone interested in Valdez at 326.3 inches and Haines at 262.4 inches per year on average?).  However, this is the extreme end of Alaska's snowfall.  The general average for much of the state is between 40 and 75 inches per year!

Temperatures
Photo from Hatcher Pass B&B
We could go through the same comparisons in temperature, but we'll sum it up.  The average temperatures between November and March are between 20 and 30 degrees Fahrenheit.  Not bad, really!  Again, we have our extremes, but this is true anywhere!  And our dry air makes 25 degrees seem a lot warmer than it seems in much of the lower 48 states!

Daylight
You think it's dark here all winter?  We beg to differ!  Some of the northernmost parts of the state DO have an extreme 2-month period during which the sun does not rise.  However, most of the state does have sunlight during at least part of the day:  between 5-7 hours of full daylight during our shortest daylight months of December and January.

Now we can talk about what there is to do in our great state during the winter months.  The question might be:  what ISN'T there to do, swimming and sunbathing aside?

Winter Activities
We've already talked about the Aurora Borealis.  Winter is certainly the time to catch this beautiful nighttime light show!  However, let us offer a few suggestions as to daytime activities:

Whale Watching
It doesn't have to be summer to catch a glimpse of our Beluga Whales!  Because these mammals live on the coast of Alaska year-round, you can watch them in action during the winter - most often in Kachemak Bay.

Skiing
Whether you enjoy cross-country or downhill skiing, there are ample opportunities for both! 

World-class downhill skiing is available in Girdwood at the Alyeska Ski Resort, just 40 miles south of Anchorage.  Most major cities are also home to at least one smaller, local resort including Alpenglow and Hilltop areas in Anchorage, Egale Crest in Juneau, and Moose Mountain in Fairbanks.  Your bed and breakfast innkeepers can direct you to the local ski spots in their area.

Girdwood's Nordic Ski Club is committed to "developing and maintaining a sustainable Nordic/multi-use trail system in the Girdwood Valley," meaning that this is also a great place for cross-country skiing as well!  Other cross-country skiing areas can be found throughout the state.  Don't forget to check the reports on each area before you go!

Another quickly-growing ski pastime in Girdwood AND in places like Valdez is heli-skiing.  You've probably seen it on TV:  a helicoptor drops you off at the top of a mountain for an extreme downhill adventure.  However, the inherent dangers of becoming lost, getting hurt, and even avalanches mean this sport is only for the best-prepared skiiers!

Snowshoeing
Snowshoeing is basically a hike over the snow.  Most major trails in the state are perfect for showshoeing after it snows!  Of course, in the winter you can snowshoe OVER the lakes instead of around them... but do be careful if the area has not had a good freeze for several weeks before you go stepping out onto the water!

Snowmachining
It's true that many Alaska residents use a snowmachine (a.k.a snowmobile) to get around once snow covers the ground.  It's only practical!  However snowmachine tours are readily available for everyone who wants to experience the thrill of zooming through the snowy land!

Ice Fishing
Interested in catching your dinner?  Or maybe you just want to do some catch-release fishing?  Available on most lakes, this sport is best done on lakes that are stocked for fishing and offer resources like equipment rental and warming huts.  Popular lakes for fishing are Quartz Lake (about 40 miles southeast of Fairbanks); Delong, Jewel, Sand and Campbell Lakes (in Anchorage); Lake Clunie (near Chugiak and Eagle River); and several lakes near Ketchikan in the extreme SE part of the state.  However, lakes dot our entire state, so as long as there has been a good freeze cycle and an outfitter for equipment, there is the chance to ice fish!

Dog Sledding
Whether you just want to visit the dogs themselves to see how they are trained, or if you want to experience a trip yourself, there are tours offered all over the state.  A dog sled is pulled by 12-16 dogs at speeds of 10-12 miles per hour.  Actual sledding tours can occur on trails nearby to where the dogs are raised, or opt for a thrilling adventure where you are dropped off via helicopter onto a glacier with dogs and sled waiting to take you around the glaciers!

Photo From Rose Ridge Vacation Chalets
Glacier Viewing
Speaking of glaciers, there is way more frozen water in the winter!  Some are actually visible by land:  car, snowmobile, skis, snowshoes, etc.  If you visit a coastal town, boat tours are popular ways to see these frozen behemoths.  Of course, the more thrilling way is to take an airplane or helicopter tour, sometimes even landing on a safe area of a large glacier for a closer look!

Ice Climbing
For the more adventurous, you can CLIMB a glacier!  Somewhat similar to rock climbing, but much easier to find your grip because you're using climbing pick hammers and boots outfitted with ice cleats, this sport can be just as easy as climbing a ladder.  No matter what your skill level, you will be taught the basics and techniques (which are much more important than strength, just like in rock climbing), and you will be top-roped on anything from a slope to a vertical surface.  Whether you're young or older, a beginner or experienced, anyone can ice climb!

Hot Springs
Okay, okay, we said you couldn't swim during the winter.  Well, that's only partially true!  There are over 100 known hot springs in the state, and several are near roads and highways!  Your innkeeper will probably know the closest warm water in the area!  Of course, there may be nudity issues if visitors want to actually "bathe," so please keep that in mind.

Other Activities
Of course, there's always the old-fashioned sled ride down an area hill for those who want to stick closer to the warmth of their chosen Alaska inn!  Your host(s) may have some available, or local stores will probably have a good supply throughout the winter!  You may also run into a snow or ice-sculpting competition being held in the area, or find any other number of other events throughout the winter months.

No matter what you choose to do here, your innkeepers can point you in the right direction for an area tour, a guide, or activity.  All you have to do is book your winter getaway to your favorite BBAA Inn to find out for yourself all we have to offer during those "cold months" of the year!



Photo From A Room With A View B&B
Warning:  Wildlife
If you encounter wildlife during the winter (moose, beaver, wolf, coyote, wolverine, or even polar bear, etc.), try your best to admire from afar.  And never, under any circumstances, come between a mother animal and her babies!  Ski poles can be used as a form of defense, but if it comes to you trying to outrun a wild dog or a bear, you can guess who will win.