Fairbanks has real Jack London winters. The visitor bureau guarantees it. For the growing number of visitors who want to experience real cold, see the aurora borealis, and ride a dog sled, Fairbanks is the place. Chena Hot Springs Resort and A Taste of Alaska Lodge are the best destinations for winter immersion, but you can also have a good time in town, especially in March, when the days lighten up, the temperatures are moderate, and the town gets busy with dog mushing and the ice-carving contest.
Cross-Country Skiing -- The Birch Hill Recreation Area, off the Steese Expressway just north of town, has about 25km of good cross-country ski trails, most groomed for classical or skate skiing, and two warm-up buildings in which to change clothes. Several loops of a few kilometers each offer advanced skiing on the steep southern side of the hill; loops of up to 10km provide more level but still challenging terrain to the north. Some trails are lighted. The University of Alaska Fairbanks offers a trail network of roughly the same length, two-thirds of it groomed for skate technique. The university trails pass through lovely lands and are better suited for beginners. One trail head is at the west end of campus, near the satellite dishes at the top of Tanana Loop. Another is off Farmers Loop Road at Ballaine Lake. Find current information, including events, trail conditions, and maps, from the website of Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks (www.nscfairbanks.org).You can rent skis, poles, and boots -- skating and classic -- from a couple of different stores in town. Beaver Sports is near the university at 3480 College Rd. (tel. 907/479-2494; www.beaversports.com). Nearer to Birch Hill, Play It Again Sports, 160 Old Steese Hwy. (tel. 907/457-7427; www.playitagainsports.com), also has children's sizes.
Dog Mushing -- The long winters and vast wild lands make the Fairbanks area a center of dog sledding, for both racers and recreationists, and there are plenty of people willing to take you for a lift, which is really an experience not to be missed. Sun Dog Express Dog Sled Tours (tel. 907/479-6983; www.mosquitonet.com/~sleddog) has a good reputation, and charges at little as $15 for a quick spin, with day camps to learn mushing yourself, and summer mushing demonstrations. Or try Paws for Adventure (tel. 907/378-3630; www.pawsforadventure.com), which offers 30-minute rides for $60, or an hour for $90, as well as trips up to a week long.
During the summer, learn about mushing by taking a wonderfully intimate tour with Mary Shields, the first woman to finish the Iditarod. Rather than a tour, a visit to Mary's home on the outskirts of Fairbanks feels more like a chat with a fascinating new friend. You'll meet and pet Mary's dogs, talk about dog mushing, and hear tales of her extraordinary experiences as a musher. The tour, called Alaskan Tails of the Trails (tel. 907/455-6469; www.maryshields.com), happens every evening in the summer. It costs $35 and lasts 2 hours ($25 for children under age 12). Call for reservations, as she keeps groups small.
Downhill Skiing -- Fairbanks has two community-size downhill skiing areas, including the relatively large Moose Mountain Ski Resort (tel. 907/479-4732, snow report tel. 907/459-8132; www.shredthemoose.com), with 1,300 vertical feet of skiing. Instead of freezing on a lift, you ride up the hill and socialize in heated buses.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.