Enjoy Alaska for the price of a coffee a day

Commentary by Jim Hart
JBER Public Affairs

12/11/2013 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- It's 10 below outside; the beautiful green trees and grass have been replaced with a monochrome scene of white snow and grey skies.

Why would anyone go outside?

Believe it or not, there are people who spend thousands of dollars to be in this very environment.

In fact, some even long to be here, but can't afford the trip.

Imagine a charity personality sitting on a porch somewhere in Texas saying, "Little Johnny won't have a white Christmas this year without a plane ticket to someplace cold and snowy. For the price of a cup of coffee, you can ship Johnny a snowball per day..."
So what if Johnny got a permanent change of station to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, what could he do for the price of a cup of coffee per day?

Have a ball in the snow

Think about it - most people in the U.S. live on the coast and on relatively flat ground. They also live in temperate climates where snow is short-lived and rare.

A few things converge on snowy mountains - the force of gravity, an inclined plane with a low-friction surface that's soft and fluffy, and people who love hurling their bodies at speeds well beyond designed limits.

Skiing is one of the most popular winter vacation activities, and it's readily available on and around JBER.

Let's start with the off-base ski areas, since they have the longer ski runs, and with the closest ones first.

(Editor's note) This year is a little tough for the ski areas because the snow isn't quite as deep as it needs to be - call before heading out.)

For skiing that closely resembles backcountry, only much safer and without the helicopter ride, the Arctic Valley Ski Area on Arctic Valley Road is just outside JBER's backyard.
In fact, it used to belong to the Army and is now run as a non-profit organization.
All-day lift tickets for military members are roughly the cost of three eggnog lattes, and children under 7 years old are free.

Another non-profit is Hilltop Ski Area in Anchorage.

It's operated by Youth Exploring Adventure, an organization dedicated to providing recreational programs for Anchorage youth.

The normal lift ticket prices are in line with Arctic Valley's, but there is no military discount.
If a resort is more desirable - and who doesn't love a cup of hot cocoa after a long day on the slopes - then Alyeska Resort in Girdwood is a place to check out.

Being a resort, visitors don't have to ski to have a nice time.

Set in some of the most beautiful scenery Alaska has to offer, Alyeska has a spa, pool and other luxuries to help vacationers relax during their winter getaway.

Discounted lift tickets are available, especially for those willing to go during the week, and the resort offers package deals for families.

Check with Information Tickets and Travel for current offers.

ITT is in the Arctic Oasis on JBER-Elmendorf, and can be reached at 552-0297.

If there's just not enough time to drive off base, or if a quick afternoon of fun is all that's needed, JBER has some winter activities as well.

Before hitting the slopes, and perhaps to prevent people from hitting trees and other skiers, Hillberg Ski Area has after-school program ski and snowboard lessons, Thursdays and Fridays from 4:30 to 6 p.m. and 6:15 to 7:45 p.m. throughout December.

Prices include all equipment and lift tickets. Call Hillberg at 552-4838 for pricing.

For children between the ages of 6 and 12 years old, there's also a Snow Camp at Hillberg. The first camp is Dec. 21 to 23 and the second camp goes from Dec. 27 to 29. Both camps run from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

If skiing isn't your thing, or if simple fun without any special equipment is what you need, Hillberg also offers tubing at prices competitive with a night at the movies, or about three 20-ounce mocha lattes with sprinkles.

For those who think downhill skiing is a sure-fire way to visit an orthopedic surgeon, and tubing is just not civilized or refined enough, cross-country skiing is also available, including lessons and whole-season equipment rentals.

Popular with people who like the silence and elegance of sliding through groomed trails for a lunchtime workout, Eagleglen Golf Course offers its Fit to Fight cross country ski program, seven days per week from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Eagleglen is a ski-only facility to preserve the trail grooming. No snow shoes, snow bikes or pets.

This would also mean no snow golf clubs, snow golf balls or snow golf carts.

Skis aren't required

There is another side of snow recreation that's fast and uses gasoline. No, not lighting a bonfire by ill-advised and dangerous means. This is snowmobiling - snowmachining.
First, in Alaska, it's not snowmobiling.

For reasons not readily apparent, Alaskans will correct you every time you say "snowmobile."

Perhaps the reason rests in bush lore (country cousins of urban legends), but all the scientific research sites available, such as Wikipedia and Snowmobile Forum, are divided on this.

In the interest of being absolutely (and politically) correct, the term "gasoline-powered, self-propelled, high-speed sled" could be used... except this would be the first time it's ever been in print and the term would be too cumbersome. Snowmachine it is.

One of the more exotic locations at which to snowmachine is Seward Military Resort, run by Army Family Morale Welfare and Recreation.

Most people familiar with Seward know it as a summer destination for fishing, sightseeing and the Seward Sea Life Center (which is open year-round), but it also has some unique snowmachine trails nearby.

The Exit Glacier tour offers breathtaking scenery and a memorable Alaska experience. The four-to fiver-hour tour costs about what you would pay for 12 chai lattes with extra cinnamon. Call Seward Military Resort for reservations at 800-770-1858.

For people who want to make their own snowmachine adventure, Outdoor Rec offers snowmachine rentals; riders will need a safety class first.

Not everyone appreciates gas-powered sleds. How about something powered by kibble-fed, air cooled, nonelectric dog-sled pullers?

Dogsled rides are available Dec. 21 on Hillberg Lake from noon to 5 p.m.

Prices for adults are about what you would pay for a box of dog treats and a large coffee... don't literally try to pay with dog treats, though. While the dogs would love anyone offering treats, the sled driver definitely would not.

I've played in the snow... now what?

While snow and ice can be a blast, there are more civilized ways to enjoy winter outside the home.

ITT offers discounted tickets to the Anchorage Museum of History and Art as well as the Anchorage Concert Association (they'll show West Side Story Jan. 14 through 24).
ITT also has tickets for Alaska Aces hockey and scenic tours on the Alaska Railroad, as well as discounted lift tickets.

There are hobby-related services available, such as the wood hobby shop and the ceramics shop on JBER-R in building 755.

Holiday Party

If you're not sure if tubing or skiing would be fun, or you're not ready to commit to taking the family out by yourself, join the rest of the JBER community at Hillberg for the JBER Installation Holiday Party, Dec. 20 from noon to 4 p.m.

There will be dogsled rides, tubing, snow machine rides, skiing and snowboarding, and for those who would rather watch - yes, there will also be hot cocoa. And cookies.
So while it may be tempting to be a recluse until spring, perhaps even suffer some cabin fever just so you have a story to tell the family back home, there is plenty to do in and around JBER.

Many of those things cost less than a cup of coffee per day... with sprinkles.

This story implies no federal endorsement of activities or businesses, and is intended for informational purposes only.