The Ice Museum and midnight sun in Fairbanks

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By the time Felip and I arrived to Fairbanks and checked in to the hostel, it was getting late. And we had to leave at 7 the next morning for a long drive.

That left us only a few hours to explore the city. Fortunately, we managed to make it to the Ice Museum downtown just in time for their last show of the evening. And what a show it was.

ice museum welcome

The program began with an introduction from a local ice carver. Every March, Fairbanks is home to one of the biggest ice carving competitions in the world. One artist is on hand here each day to provide demonstrations.

A collection of ice sculptures are displayed with pretty lights behind glass windows, where they can be stored at 20 degrees. You’ve got your stereotypical Alaska shelter, the igloo, with a scary wolf watching nearby.

Ice igloo carving

I don’t know how else to describe this piece of art, except a pink lady lying on her back with her legs in the air. I’m sure there’s no latent meaning behind this one. It’s just artsy, right?

Ice pink lady carving

Here’s the cool part: There’s one room that you can actually walk inside to touch some of the ice creations. So we got to poke our heads through Eskimo sculptures and stand behind a bar made of ice and pretend to chug whiskey. It was all pretend. No real whiskey chugging here… just pretend…

ice posing

After we were given a few minutes to browse the icy goodness, the artist moved behind a glass wall and busted out his power tools to sculpt a plain block of ice into something pretty.

Ice carving in action

Later, he brought out the super-sized blow dryer to permanently freeze it in place.

ice blow drying

It’s a snail on a leaf! I think.

snail ice carving

The previous hour’s carving was still on display, and was much more impressive in my opinion. Look at that magnificent sea horse!

Sea horse ice statue

It’s always thought-provoking when you encounter someone who is such a specialist at such an obscure trade. Imagine dedicating your entire life to learning to carve and sculpt ice. What an odd profession. But an incredibly cool one at the same time.

Once the ice carving and a subsequent Aurora Borealis film ended, it was back out to the street. The time was approaching 10:00, but at this near-Arctic latitude, it looked like the middle of the day.

Fairbanks Ice Museum exterior

As we tried to adjust to the late daylight, we walked around downtown to see what else Fairbanks had to offer. I thought Fairbanks was bigger than it was. All I knew was that it was the second-largest city in Alaska, behind Anchorage. Turns out Fairbanks only has 30,000 residents. That’s just three times the size of the town in Beaver County, Pennsylvania where I grew up!

This is what the row of businesses in downtown Fairbanks looked like:

Downtown Fairbanks

So while there wasn’t as much in the way of nightlife as I expected, we passed on the bars and instead opted to see a local park.

More love for the native peoples with this prominent statue and fountain.

eskimo statue fountain

These distance signs are always fun. Only 10,2000 miles to Cape Town!

Fairbanks mileage sign

Even at this hour, some hoodlums were rafting down the river. Yeah, I call them hoodlums. Who knows what trouble they’re getting into?

fairbanks rafters

Finally, there it was. The midnight sun, peeking through the clouds to light up the early morning.

Midnight sun in Fairbanks

It finally got “dark” after 1 a.m., but only for a couple of hours. Seeing the sun at that hour made the drive up to Fairbanks worth it.

Have you ever seen an ice carving? Or the sun at midnight?

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About Scott Shetler

Scott is a Chicago-based journalist and blogger who seeks out quirky sights and awesome destinations throughout North America and beyond.

13 comments on “The Ice Museum and midnight sun in Fairbanks

  1. Thanks so much for this article, and for linking to our website. I love your description of the Ice Museum! I’m sharing it on our facebook page for the Downtown Association of Fairbanks.

  2. Ice sculpture is so fascinating. How fun that you got to see carving made in front of you. These are pretty impressive creations to have been created while people are watching. How long did it take? And the sight of so much light at 10 PM and that beautiful midnight sun… It all sounds like a fantastic experience :)

  3. That is so amazing that you got to go to Alaska!! I can’t imagine it being that light at midnight. I would never sleep! I had a hard enough time in Paris in summer… Ice artists are exciting to watch; their precision is unbelievable. Love the “interactive” photos — you must’ve been freezing!
    Abby recently posted..I could get used to this

    • We were so exhausted that it wasn’t actually that hard to sleep! The ice carving room was chilly but not too cold. The guy worked behind glass in his own room where it was 20 degrees.

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