Day 2 – The North Pole, Alaska
Ice slides, Santa Claus and Winter Wisdom from a Cab Driving Cowboy
My friend Annette and I had arrived at the Pike’s Waterfront Landing in Fairbanks late on December 27. We awoke to the smell of fresh baked cookies wafting into our room. Running to look out the window and see what we had missed, arriving after dark the night before, I was disappointed when I flung open the curtain to see more dark and fat flakes still coming down. It was 9:30 am.
We dressed, walked down for breakfast and came back with warm cookies and coffee from the lobby. We had not rented a car because we were unsure of driving conditions in Alaska and had been told Pike’s Landing had a shuttle that would bring us where we needed to go.
More snow was forecast for the day and there was about 7 inches of snow on the ground by sunrise at 11:30. We arranged for the shuttle to bring us to a grocery store to stock up on supplies and snacks. We then walked around downtown Fairbanks and had lunch at Soapy Smith’s in town.
We found out the North Pole was a half hour bus ride from Fairbanks and hopped on the 1st bus we could find to bring us there.
Going to The Santa Claus House, North Pole Alaska. Gonna Find Out Who’s Naughty or Nice…
It was a full blizzard and 4° with about 9 inches of snow on the ground when we began spotting candy cane light posts and Christmas street names. It was around 4pm and the sun was setting. A giant Santa statue loomed over us in greeting and we headed towards the main building, bundled in thick layers.
Santa Claus House was a red and white building. Inside was a gift shop and a wall of letters from children around the world written to Santa. Also inside, was Santa himself as well as Mrs Claus. SANTAAAA!!!
Reindeer and Ice Slides At Santa Claus’ House
Out back was a stable with actual reindeer and an icy wonderland. Santa’s sleigh was carved in ice and illuminated with colorful lights. There were dozens of glowing ice sculptures and it had grown dark outside. There were shining ice polar bears, trains, tunnels to crawl through, igloos to enter and best of all, the neon lit ice slides. Happy that we wore our battery heated socks and scarves, we grabbed our sleds and headed for the glowing slides. There were short slides, tall straight slides and wavy slides with hills pulsing with bright changing streaks of color. We ran as fast as our 3-pair-of-sock-wearing, booted feet could take us through the deepening snow to zip down as many slides as we could. We laughed wildly, flying down the slick glowing ice in the night.
Reaching the end of our allotted time, we were surprised that we weren’t colder. It was 4° and we had spent the last 40 minutes outside. Interesting…
Fairbanks Alaska Weather…Snowy and 4 Degrees
We made our way back to Fairbanks and grabbed a couple warm cookies in the Pikes Peak lobby and some hot cocoa.
“Just so you ladies are aware, our shuttle service will only be running down the main road to the grocery store tonight, due to the storm.”
There was about 12 inches of snow on the ground by this point. We wanted to get dinner and check out a brewery. We were told cabs might still be running so we left with the number and scheduled a pick up.
Silver Gulch Brewery In a Blizzard
The snow had let up for about an hour and the Silver Gulch Brewing Company was about 45 minutes from the hotel. We figured it was worth the expense and the ride.
As we headed off the main highways, we noticed that the roads did not seem plowed and our driver was not driving slow. The thick fat snowflakes hit the windows as we slouched further down in our seats. I peered nervously up at the speedometer to see 58mph! 58 mph, over inches of packed down snow in a blizzard…in extreme dark outside of any city lights! We tightly gripped the door handles and checked our seat belts. Roads winding into the darkness,visibility limited by the heavy snow, we began questioning our decision.
Winter Wisdom From the Alaska Cowboy
“Do you have snow chains on these tires?” I inquired hopefully, somewhat relieved…remembering hearing about places in mountains requiring cars to have snow chains, thus explaining his speed.
“Nope,” our driver, a Sam Elliot look- alike, replied. He darted a glance at us from under his cowboy hat, blue eyes in the rearview mirror.
“I’m sorry, but how are you not spinning out all over the road?” I blurted.
“It’s not slippery.” He informed us.
“At home, we would be sliding all over the road in a blizzard like this.”
“It’s a dry snow.” He explained. “It’s only 2° so the snow is dry and crunchy, not wet and slushy.”
A few minutes later, we pulled into the near empty brewery parking lot. Our driver, Tom, aka Sam Elliot, gave us his card and told us to call him directly for a ride back about 30 minutes before we finished.
Gold Dredge Wisdom from the Cowboy
We were the only diners out in the night, in a blizzard. Somewhat apprehensive about the ride back, we watched the heavy snow falling as we ate our brick oven pizza and enjoyed a couple beers.
We called for Tom and headed back to the hotel. The snow was coming down heavy still and the total was around 14 inches at this point.
“Are you from Alaska?” I asked. Trying to distract myself from the thick snow and winding dark roads.
“No, originally Colorado.” Tom responded. “Back in the 70’s. I hitch hiked all over the U.S. and Canada and into Alaska. I liked it so much I never left. Used to work on a gold dredge.”
“That is cool…we are supposed to stop at a dredge on our tour to the Arctic Circle tomorrow.”
Tom advised, “You may want to call first, that may be cancelled from the weather. By the way, there’s an old dredge up here a couple miles on the right you might want to check out while you’re here.”
I gripped the seat with tight fists and sucked air through my teeth as we took a sharp exit without slowing, bracing for a spin out. Making it smoothly to the main road with plowed streets and lights, we sighed in relief.
It’s Cold in Chicago
“Where are you ladies from?” Tom inquired.
“Chicago” Annette answered.
“Are you guys nuts? It’s freezing there!” Tom laughed.
“Everyone keeps saying that.” Annette said. “You do realize you live in Alaska, right?”
Tom clarified, “No…it’s a different kind of cold than Chicago…it’s dry. You got the damp, get in your bones kind of cold. When it warms up here in the spring, it doesn’t melt into puddles. It just evaporates…like snow in the desert.”
That is true…I thought. I can be chilled to the bone in 40° weather when it’s damp in Chicago. Here in Alaska, we played outside for 40 minutes in 4° weather and it wasn’t miserable.
Tom continued, “Plus you guys got all that wind! It’s peaceful here. If the trees get covered in snow, it can stay there for weeks because there’s no wind to blow it out. We have gorgeous snow covered trees all winter. You guys get 60 mph wind gusts in that damp cold. Chicago is definitely worse.”
This all seemed to make sense. We made it back to Pike’s Peak safely and Tom’s face crinkled in a smile under his grey mustache as he tipped his cowboy hat and told us to hold on to his number and he will pick us up if we need a ride while in town.” We thanked him and headed inside to the warmth of the lobby and the smell of fresh baked cookies to rest up for the next day.