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Alaska

Bigger Than Life Snowmobiling

Published online: Nov 07, 2007 Feature

Ask someone who has been to Alaska and ask them what their first impressions were and more than likely you'll hear something to the effect, "It's so big," or "It's bigger than life."

Alaska is big. Big to the tune of about two and a half times the size of Texas.

And just about all of that land mass is covered with snow during the winter months (and summer months as well, depending on where you are).

There are a handful of spots in The Last Frontier where you can't or shouldn't ride a snowmobile but for the most part, the state is wide open to snowmobiling.

As big as Alaska as and as much opportunity there is to ride a snowmachine over its vast white expanses, it's the sheer variety of riding that's available that is the most appealing. It's a given there's snow in Alaska-usually measured in feet, not inches. And when you've got a state so big and so diverse, well, the scenery is described with oohs and aahhs. We're not sure if anyone keeps track of things like this but we're pretty sure more pictures are shot in Alaska than probably any other state in the Union.

When you're not gawking at Alaska's amazing beauty, most likely you're enjoying deep powder, wide open riding and challenging mountains that beckon even the hardiest hillclimbers with the biggest horsepower. There's a mix of every kind of snowmobiling you can imagine in Alaska. Throw in the fact that the season is very long-sledding starts as early as October and can go well into May, June and even July-and a lack of crowds and you can see why Alaska is such a coveted snowmobiling spot.

Few places in North America have the mountains and ranges you'll find so far north and so close to the ocean as is found in Alaska. And there aren't many places where you can sled right from sea level (practically from the ocean's edge) and shoot up several thousand feet into the mountains.

There are places in Alaska with small, developed trail systems as well as locations that attract more snowmachiners than others, but it's still pretty wide open with sometimes you only limits being the amount of gas you can carry and your reliability on a GPS.

No doubt, the sheer vastness of Alaska can be an intimidating experience. But that is part of the experience.

Other features that make Alaska so appealing include glaciers, mountain ranges (39 in the state) for as far as the eye can see, imposing 20,320-foot Mt. McKinley (tallest mountain in North America), wild rivers, frozen lakes, above-the-treeline riding, riding at sea level, two oceans, Aurora Borealis and the list goes on.

Some of the more popular local sledding spots include Hatcher Pass, Nancy Lake State Recreation Area/Willow and Big Lake, north of Anchorage, the White Mountains, Summit and Cantwell near Fairbanks, Tok, Delta Junction, Valdez and Eureka. Of course, these riding areas are just a portion of what is actually available.

Other riding options include selected Alaska state parks, which includes the already mentioned Nancy Lake. A handful of others where snowmaching is allowed include Birch Lake State Recreation Site, Chena River State Recreation Area, Denali State Park and Chugach State Park. For more information on these parks and others, log on to www.dnr.state.ak.us/parks and click on the individual parks section.

Riding is also popular and allowed in Alaska's two state forests-Tanana Valley (near Fairbanks) and Haines (near Haines).

One snowmobile rental outfit near Girdwood even offers snowmobile tours during the summer.

As you can see, the possibilities are endless.

One of the best ways to get around on a snowmobile is to take a local along with you. Someone who knows the area, especially when it's as big as what you'll find in Alaska, and the associated hazards, such as crevasses in glaciers or avalanche danger, can be invaluable on a snowmachine trip in the Final Frontier. Even advanced riders should have people with them who know the area.

Contact the Alaska State Snowmobile Association for information on riding in the state by logging on to the ASSA website at www.aksnow.org. The state association's website has good information on several trail systems and what awaits you when you ride there. The state's volunteer leadership is also listed on the site so you'll be able to maybe find a riding buddy or two for your dream trip.

 

Guide

Travel Alaska www.travelalaska.com

Road Conditions 866-282-7577

Alaska State Snowmobile Association www.aksnow.org

Number of Registered Snowmobiles 53,400

Highest Point Mount McKinley (20,320 ft)

Greatest Average Annual Snowfall Thompson Pass 551.5 in.

Record Winter Snowfall Thompson Pass 974.5 in.

Coldest Recorded Temperature Prospect Creek Camp minus-80 degrees F