Then and now: our favorite Alaska winter activities

01/09/2018 Back To Blog Cross-country skiers

Today’s winter activities aren’t what they used to be. In Alaska, many of our favorite ways to have fun were born out of necessity and even survival. Here are some of our favorite things to do, and a little history of how they came to be.

Cross-country skiing

Then: Cross-country skiing originated in Scandinavia more than 5,000 years ago. Originally a way to move quickly over deep snow, cross-country skis didn’t always look the way they do today. Skiers used one pole and had a long ski for gliding and a short ski for traction. In the 13th century, troops used skis to cover vast distances and the Danish-Norwegian army specialized in skiing battalions.

Now: Cross-country skiing is still sometimes used as a means to get around, but it’s mostly done for recreation or for sport. It has even made its way into the Winter Olympics and Alaska boasts a formidable crop of cross-country Olympic athletes. Skis have evolved to be much lighter with a plastic surface for minimal friction, and skiers now use two poles made from aluminum instead of one made from bamboo. Cross-country trails such as Campbell Creek and Kincaid Park are popular in Anchorage, and visitors can rent skis at places like REI to try the sport out on their own.

Dog sledding

Then: Dogs have always been important to humans, but had a special role in Arctic communities. Their tracking abilities made them incredible hunting partners and their gentleness even led some indigenous people to use them as babysitters for children while they were out on hunts. Big, strong dogs like the malamute helped to pull sleds filled with firewood and important supplies. By the time the Klondike Gold Rush began, dog teams were hauling heavy loads to areas that would otherwise have been inaccessible. Dog teams have come to the rescue of humans many times to move supplies during wars and in the Serum Run of 1925, helping transport much-needed medicine to Nome.

Now: There are people in some rural communities that still use dog teams for transportation and hauling goods. However, like cross-country skiing, it’s now largely for sport. There are many competitive races such as the world famous Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, and there are also many places across Alaska, including Princess Lodges, that offer tours so guests can have their very own dog sledding experience.


Then: Snowshoeing has been around for about 6,000 years, and was brought to what’s now Alaska when ancestors to the Inuit people migrated from Asia across the Bering Land Bridge. They created snowshoes out of wood and rawhide to trudge across the surface of snowfields, and even created three main shapes and sizes for different types of snow conditions.

Now: In the 1970s, snowshoeing began to evolve into a social activity and a sport that allowed people to continue getting outside and hike even in snowy conditions. It’s popular because it’s inexpensive, a good workout and it’s easy! If you can walk, you can snowshoe, and there are no lessons required like skiing or snowboarding. It’s a great way to tackle winter trails across Alaska.

Many other winter activities like snowmachining and ice fishing began very practically, simply as ways to survive long winters. Do you know how your favorite activities originated?

Posted in: Alaska Activities