“I felt impossibly tiny, overwhelmed by the quiet”: The visceral appeal of late winter in America’s wild, frozen north

Written by Travel Adventures

It was the first week of April, the dawn of spring in most of the Northern Hemisphere, but it still felt very much like winter in Anchorage. Snow was everywhere: piled high on rooftops and cars, framing the pavements in colossal embankments, floating in clumps in the Cook Inlet. It covered the nearby Chugach Mountains, which form a fierce and jagged amphitheatre on the city’s eastern edge. I’d come to Alaska, in large part, to ski those mountains, thanks to a chance encounter I’d had the previous year. While visiting the state for the first time in the way many do, on a midsummer cruise, I met a guy from Anchorage at a bar. After recounting how I’d fallen for the state following a day spent hiking imagination-defying landscapes, I made a naive remark about how the winters must be brutal. “Oh no,” he said. “Winter here is the absolute best.”

Wandering moose

Wandering mooseJulien Capmeil

He described jaunts to a ski resort with surreal terrain and no crowds; weekends spent holed up in cabins reachable only by bush planes that land on frozen lakes; and weather that (at least around Anchorage) is less punishing than you might think. Go after February, he advised, when the sunlight is back but the snow is still deep.

Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop

Fire Island Rustic BakeshopJulien Capmeil

Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop Anchorage

Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop, AnchorageJulien Capmeil

I began my first day by exploring Anchorage, mainly because I’ve long been intrigued by cities that seem overlooked – or, in the case of this one, tend to be cast more as entry points than desired destinations. Alaska’s largest city, home to nearly half of the state’s 730,000 inhabitants, has a fascinating history and heritage. Indigenous cultures here date back to long before it became a tent encampment of frontiersmen. An earthquake levelled the place in 1964, four years before oil was discovered and opened a spigot of money that shaped today’s mini metropolis. Anchorage feels somehow both brand-new and dated, consisting primarily of a downtown of utilitarian towers and a sprawl of strip malls that resemble those towers tipped on their sides. Everyone in the state knows the quip about Anchorage’s best feature: “You can see Alaska from there.”

“We are definitely due for a revamp,” joked Rachel Pennington, part of the family that owns Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop, a local staple where I stopped for breakfast on my first morning. “But that’s part of the fun. So much here is hidden that you have to be willing to look for it.”

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