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James Thomson | Barents Observer

Surfing in the Arctic

Surfing is surprisingly hot in the Lofoten Islands, Norway, 124 miles north of the Arctic Circle.“It’s all happening in the Arctic!” cries Tommy Olsen, as I jump off my rented surfboard, having caught my first wave of the day.He gives me a high-five, but I still get the feeling I won’t make the cut for the Lofoten Masters tournament, the world’s northernmost surf event.Olsen and his wife, Marion Frantzen, started Unstad Camping with Frantzen’s parents 11 years ago, not yet realizing the draw Arctic surfing would become. Back then, it was a typical campground on a beautiful beach, known as a surf spot only to a few brave locals like Frantzen’s father, Thor. He caught his first wave at Unstad in 1963.Since Olsen and Frantzen took over, though, rebranding the site as a surf destination, Unstad Arctic Surf has become an international hub for surfers who want a different kind of “chilling.” Located 124 miles north of the Arctic Circle, surfing at Unstad earns visitors bragging rights down south, despite the mild water temperatures.People think it’s very very cold,” says Olsen. “It could be cold, but surprisingly, like today, it’s super hot.”Unique settingThe day I visited Unstad the water was 8 degrees Celsius (46.4 degrees Fahrenheit), just 2 degrees Celsius colder than Vancouver Island. The Gulf Stream, which brings warm water from the Gulf of Mexico, keeps Norway’s coast ice-free and mild year-round.But it’s not just warm temperatures that attracts surfers from around the world, or even the quality of the waves over a soft sand beach.“It’s the backdrop and the surroundings,” says Olsen. Imposing cliffs frame the beach, making for spectacular views and great photo opportunities. The snow that comes later in the year helps, too, giving the scene a dramatic, adventurous appeal.Even in the dead of winter, when the sun has vanished and only a few hours of dim light illuminate the beach, surfers still head out for a ride during the precious daylight hours.“It’s fun; it’s a mission,” says Olsen.And unlike busy southern beaches, where angry locals wait in line for their chance at a wave, at Unstad, Olsen says even on a big day there is enough to go around.“In the winter, when it’s a little bit big, the problem is actually to have someone to surf with.”This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch News as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.
Alaska Dispatch News

Explore Fairbanks Destination Video

Fairbanks, known as Alaska's “Golden Heart City,” is known for it aurora borealis viewing, winter outdoor adventures and historic gold rush sites.In this video produced by Explore Fairbanks, local band Young Fangs performs “Show Me the Way” against a backdrop of footage that showcases the activities and sights Interior Alaska has to offer.Read more: For winter fun, head north -- far north
Tara Young,Mike Dunham


The impetus for “Stories Fading Fast,” an exhibit of ghostly photos of derelict Alaska mining sites, came from an old map of the Fairbanks area. “I was looking at this thing and realized it showed all kinds of small communities that are not around any more,” said photographer J. Jason Lazarus.Lazarus, who admits to having an “Indiana Jones streak,” took his cameras and went exploring. “Usually I found absolutely nothing. Sometimes a foundation or maybe an outhouse. But every once in a while I’d find a whole settlement, five or six buildings and artifacts.”Though deserted, the sites retained an echo of the pulse of human activity that had once enlivened them, plucky and struggling people far from home, many grasping at their last straws, isolated in a vast, difficult landscape that was at once magnificent, bleak and lethal.Read more: Raising the dead: Photographer aims to catch Alaska mining relics before they fade foreverWatch this video on Vimeo or YouTube, and be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel for more great videos. Contact Tara Young at tara(at)
Alaska Dispatch News

Helicopter skiing during the 1950's at Mt Alyeska, Alaska.

Imagine the perfect day skiing at Alyeska Resort. It’s probably a day with deep powder, blue skies, no lines at the lift, and first tracks everywhere you look.How about no chairlifts at all?That’s what WJ “Wally” Wellenstein captured in this 16mm movie from an Anchorage Ski Club outing in the 1950s.Alyeska's first chairlift, now Chair 1, began operating in 1959. Before that, skiers had to either hike up or take a helicopter. Today, Alaska's largest ski resort boasts six chairlifts and a high-speed tram, allowing access to 1,400 skiable acres.Wally Wellenstein was a prominent Anchorage architect. He came to Alaska in 1942, serving in the Army in Juneau. After World War II, he got his architecture degree and moved back for good in 1949.Find out more about Alyeska's history at the Roundhouse Museum, near the upper tram terminal at the resort.
Tara Young


Bell's Nursery has several locations in Anchorage with thousands of square feet in greenhouse space. The bulk of Bell's business comes from hanging baskets of flowers, poinsettias, and the thousands of pounds of cucumbers and tomatoes it grows and sells annually. But Mike Mosesian, farmer and owner of Bell’s Nursery, is also trying his hand at a more unusual Alaska crop: wine grapes.“There’s a few wineries up here, but they make it out of concentrate, which makes an inferior product,” he said. “ It’s like how you make orange juice out of frozen concentrate.”A fourth-generation farmer with a graduate degree in viticulture and a minor in chemistry from the University of California Davis, Mosesian has the know-how needed to grow wine grapes indoors. His Armenian family immigrated to the United States from Turkey at the beginning of the 20th century. He says his great-grandfather was one of the farmers who started Sun-Maid raisins in Fresno, Calif., in the 1920s, and his father owned and operated a thousand acres of California farmland growing table and wine grapes.Mosesian decided that he could make a superior Alaska wine by growing the grapes himself indoors. What makes a great wine “is hot days and cool nights,” he says. According to Mosesian, Alaska is the only state in the United States that does not have a wine-grape winery because it’s too cold to ripen grapes outside.“You have to put them in a hoop house or greenhouse for them to ripen. And since these greenhouses are somewhat warm in the winter, it made for an ideal environment.”Mosesian is teaching himself winemaking and making wine at home in his basement. He doesn’t have a license to sell wine, but he can give it away or drink it. To make wine production in Alaska a viable industry, Mosesian says he would need partners to go in on 10 acres of land on which to build inexpensive greenhouses. Mosesian says he could propagate the grapes from the cuttings he already has at Bell's Nursery; they would just need a location with the right soil.“We could have a winery if people were interested in going to an area like Point MacKenzie or Wasilla -- we could have the first wine grape winery in Alaska,” he says.Read more: Tomato grower toys with the idea of a winery in AlaskaWatch this video on Vimeo or YouTube, and be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel for more great videos. Contact Tara Young at tara(at)
Tara Young


Aaron Dollison, 49, grew up in Anchorage and learned to cook from his mother. He went on to cook at Susitna Foods & Spirits and Denny’s, but he learned how to cook in bulk in prison.Dollison said he would never get involved in drugs, but it surrounded him when he was growing up. He got into marijuana, and then cocaine, and then eventually started dealing cocaine, for which Dollison was busted and sentenced to more than 11 years in federal prison. His first stint was at Taft Federal Correction Institution in California, where he eventually became lead cook for 1,800 inmates. Then he cooked as lead cook for 1,600 in Sandstone, Minn. The last leg of his time was in Lompoc federal prison in California, where he was lead cook for 500.After he served his time, Dollison tried to find a job, but no one wanted to give him a second chance -- until he met Michael Bailey, food and facility director of Anchorage nonprofit Bean’s Café.Dollison has now been a chef at Bean’s Cafe for the past year and a half and says he’s happy to wake up at 5 a.m. to get to work: “I love my job.” He recalls a Bean’s fundraiser, The Pour in 2013, as the transformative moment when he knew he was welcome in society again. After much coaxing from colleagues he left the kitchen and walked around the event, talking to heads of banks and lawyers, all of whom made him feel welcome.“Right then, that changed my life,” Dollison said.Now Dollison hopes to be a model for the clients at Bean’s. Some are homeless; others are just down on their luck, he says. Dollison wants to show them that with hard work, determination, and a little encouragement from others, anything is possible.“The majority of these clients, they’re wonderful. We all make mistakes; they’re human just like we are,” Dollison said.“We’re like a big family here because we know each other. It’s great.”Watch this video on Vimeo or YouTube, and be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel for more great videos. Contact Tara Young at tara(at)
Alaska Dispatch News
Humpback whales feed in a truly unique way called bubble net feeding. These baleen whales swim in a circle around a school of fish, blowing bubbles to confine the fish. The ring of bubbles encircles the school and eventually the whales break the circle and gulp thousands of fish in one swallow. In this video shot by AkXPro Productions, a pod of humpback whales feeds in Prince William Sound while a drone hovers overhead. 
Alaska Dispatch News

Winter Solstice Sunrise to Sunset in Nome, Alaska

Winter solstice, the darkest day of the year, is particularly dark in the Arctic Circle. Nome, Alaska, situated on the coast of the Bering sea, gets less then four hours of sunlight during winter solstice.Read more: The science of winter solstice
Tara Young


The Nutcracker first premiered in St. Petersburg, Russia at the Mariinsky Theater on Dec. 18, 1892. More than 120 years later, The Nutcracker has become a long-held Christmas tradition in America, enjoyed by families across the country. On Nov. 28-30, the Alaska Dance Theatre partnered with the Eugene Ballet Company to bring Anchorage audiences a bit of holiday magic at the Atwood Concert Hall.“Nutcracker is a great holiday tradition for most families, it’s relatable, there’s something in it for everyone.” said Erika Sandre, director of the Alaska Dance Theatre. “There’s a little bit of wonder, some mystery, some magic, also some little funny moments as well.”For the children and young adults of the Alaska Dance Theatre company, this performance may have been their first time working in a professional theater and -- working with the Eugene Ballet Company -- their first time performing alongside the pros. According to Sandre, “they’re sharing a stage with professional dancers, many of whom these young girls and our young boy will likely grow up idolizing. So to be able to work with them side by side is pretty remarkable.”Dancer Hannah Stieren, 10, said that her favorite part of performing in The Nutcracker is working with the dancers from Eugene company.“I love mostly the experience of it, that we get to perform with the company," she said. "I like performing with the company because it makes me feel like a ballerina. It makes me feel like I’m a part of them.”Watch this video on Vimeo or YouTube, and be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel for more great videos. Contact Tara Young at tara(at) more: For many young ballet dancers, the annual 'Nutcracker' is a rite of passage
Alaska Dispatch News

Nature's Fury: The Next Alaska Quake - Rehearsing a Response

Ever since the 1964 Good Friday earthquake, Alaskans have speculated when the next big earthquake will occur. To test the preparedness of responders, the Federal Emergency Management Agency designed an earthquake-response simulation called Alaska Shield, which replayed the 1964 event in Anchorage and the surrounding region.FEMA is responsible for prepping for and responding to disasters, so they wanted to assess what areas would see the most impact and experience the most intense shaking during an earthquake. Their risk analysis used to create Alaska Shield was based on existing data from the U.S. Geological Survey.Read more: 50 years after huge earthquake, building moratorium expiring
Tara Young


Sporting costumes and gutsy smiles, more than 1,000 people willingly leaped into the frigid waters of Anchorage’s Goose Lake on Saturday for the sixth-annual Polar Plunge.  Participants braved freezing temperatures for the event, a fundraiser for Special Olympics Alaska. Organizers were expecting to receive $400,000 in donations to support athletes with intellectual disabilities as a result of the event.“Where in the world would you rather be today?” said Special Olympics Alaska president and CEO Jim Balamaci, watching the event unfold in a deerskin and red fox fur hat. “Every year, it gets bigger and stronger.”This year’s crop of “plungers” included Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Sen.-elect Dan Sullivan, who jumped in with their families. This was the first time making the plunge for Murkowski, dressed in a work suit and acting on a promise made to Special Olympics athletes last year. Asked how it felt after her plunge, the dripping-wet senator replied, "Refreshing!" with a broad smile.SEE PHOTOS: 2014 Special Olympics Polar PlungeWatch this video on Vimeo or YouTube, and be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel for more great videos. Contact Tara Young at tara(at)
Erik Hill


The Shell contractor that broke environmental and maritime safety laws during the oil giant’s troubled 2012 drilling season was sentenced on Friday to pay $12.2 million in fines and community payments, serve four years’ probation and undergo a company-wide environmental compliance program that will be subjected to the scrutiny of third-party experts. Noble Corp.’s senior vice president for operations, Bernie Wolford, entered eight guilty pleas on behalf of the company’s U.S. unit and admitted that the government’s allegations of violations aboard the Discoverer and Kulluk drill ships were true. U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Beistline imposed the sentence, under terms of a plea agreement reached between federal prosecutors and the company and filed in court on Dec. 8.Read more: Shell drilling contractor's sentence includes $12.2 million fine