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World begins to warm to Alaska's winter fun

-- Fairbanks Daily News-Miner - March 18

Posted: Wednesday, March 21, 2001

What time of year does this sound like?

Hotels booked to the brim.

Streets overrun with clusters of tourists, chatting away in Japanese or German, perhaps snapping pictures of street corners and other sights locals take for granted.

Trucks and recreational vehicles packed to the gills with baggage, sporting license plates from Canada or the Lower 48.

June? July? Think again.

There was a time when a flood tide of visitors was a sure sign of summer this far north. Only Alaskans were "crazy" enough to seek out these parts while snow still blanketed the ground. The attractions of our winter wonderland remained a state secret.

Well, word is getting out.

Recent weeks have seen this community assume an international flavor. We can thank the International Federation of Sleddog Sports for bringing to town hundreds of mushers and skijorers for a spectacular series of races that lived up to their advance billing as world championship competitions.

Ice Alaska's homegrown ice-carving festival, meanwhile, just keeps getting bigger and bigger. Where else on earth can one find a staggering display of crystal creativity rivaling our town's Ice Park? If you haven't been to see the show, go. And take the kids, though your heart may be in your mouth watching them careen down the slides.

Listening to the accents of the crowd, it's apparent that the international traveling community has taken note of Ice Alaska's shimmering seasonal gem.

That is likely due, in no small part, to the teams of foreign carvers that annually descend on Fairbanks to show off their own skills against the best the world has to offer.

Yes, the word is getting out.

Even the granddaddy of Fairbanks winter fun, the ACS Open North American sprint-racing championship, is assuming a distinctly international flavor. The trails once owned by Alaska huskies driven by the likes of Athabascan legend George Attla now serve as a stage for the exploits of Eurohounds.

Swedish musher Egil Ellis, hard-charging leader of the new foreign spring invasion, is the odds-on favorite to claim his third-straight Open North American crown. As we gripe about the plight of Alaska kennels, we'll pause to cheer the role Ellis and his wife, Helen Lundberg, have played -- reaffirming Fairbanks as mushing's ultimate proving ground for would-be sprint champions.

Roll in the Outside traffic generated by the Special Olympics Winter Games down in Anchorage and there's a case to be made that Alaska is rapidly becoming a year-round tourist destination. That's a trend promising increasing diversification for the state's economy. It's also an incentive for the local service sector to put on its best face for guests all 12 months of the year.

Alaska's winter attractions are unparalleled. We all knew that, of course, it just took a while for the world to catch on.



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