Anchorage is coming up on Christmas darn near snowless. Temperatures are 10 to 20 degrees below the norm for December. The long, gorgeous days of the midnight-sun summer are gone, replaced by the short grim days of the cold, long dark. Skiers are depressed. Snowmachine riders are bummed. Drinkers are drinking even more than usual.
But take heart, the largest sprawl of urbanity in the 49th state tops a list of America's "Hottest Cold Cities,'' besting Spokane, Wash., and Minneapolis as the place to spend the snow season even if it's snow-not.
"Blanketed with snow from mid October to early April, Anchorage, AK, gives residents and visitors the opportunity to engage in just about every winter sport known to man,'' reports Livability, a webzine for the "America's best places to live and visit.''
OK, usually that is the case. Not so this year, but Livability notes Anchorage's restaurants, cultural, historic and kid-friendly attractions remain hot spots for visitors:
Venues such as the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts, Cyrano's Theatre Company and Chilkoot Charlie's host a variety of musical and theatrical events. Twenty-two museums and historic sites, such as the Alaska Native Heritage Center, connect visitors to local culture. For more fun indoors, guests can float the lazy river, zoom down water slides, or splash amongst other water features at H2Oasis Indoor Waterpark or tee off at Putters Wild, an indoor mini golf course.
Top that Minneapolis! Where Nordic skiers have to make down with golf courses and the best downhill skiiing is "Buck Hill, a ski area south of the Twin Cities (that) includes a half pipe for snowboarders and tubing hills." All 306-feet of vertical is now open. Yee-haw!
The Hilltop Ski Area in Anchorage, a haven for kids and beginners, has about the same, and you don't even need to leave the city to get there. But if you do want to leave town, Alyeska Resort in Girdwood has more than eight times the vertical (it's a real mountain, not a hill), and intermediate runs with snowmaking are open for skiing. The mountain's best terrain, unfortunately, remains closed due to the region's snow drought.
Alyeska usually has snow measured in feet by this time of year, but not this year. There is 10 inches at the base and only 18 inches at the top, which during most Decembers will get that much snow in the first big snowstorm to sweep in off the Gulf of Alaska. By about this time last year, Alyeska had more than 15 feet of snow on the upper mountain.
Anchorage usually is a really great winter city, if you don't mind the dim light. But this winter, there's not much more than just the dim light.