Aurora Borealis, Fairbanks, Alaska 2016 Trip Report

By Stuart Westmorland and Kevin McNeal on Apr 01, 2016

Our 2016 Aurora Borealis Alaska tour began at Mt. Skiland, also known as Mt. Aurora, just outside of Fairbanks.  The first night was just the warm-up show, giving our group a taste of what it is like to photograph the Northern Lights.  For many participants, it was their first time viewing the Northern Lights.  Even though that night’s event lasted for only a short time, it was a great beginning for what was to come later.
Located roughly 90 minutes outside of Fairbanks, Chena Hot Springs Resort is an idyllic place to photograph winter landscapes and Northern Lights for many reasons.  First, the resort is host to a wide diversity of subject matter—everything from old rustic cabins, windmills, classic old cars, airplanes, a river and creeks, and even an ice museum.  All make great foregrounds when photographing the Northern Lights.  Second, to see the lights all you have to do is walk out of your room—and they are there.  This is very convenient as there is no time wasted driving somewhere while the lights are happening.  Last, when you get cold or the lights are not as strong you can always go back to your room to warm up.
We were at Chena Hot Springs for the second half of our trip.  The best night for everyone, though, had to be our very first at Chena.  We knew the weather forecast was calling for a very strong Kp index (a predictor of aurora activity) and that this was the night we were most likely to see the best show.  As we began our drive from Fairbanks to the resort on that day, the clouds did not look promising and hopes of seeing the Northern Lights that night were diminishing.  We took our time driving to the resort and enjoyed a relaxing dinner.  While we were having dessert, we noticed a change in the weather as the clouds began to break up.  With a now-promising outlook for auroras, everyone headed back to their rooms to get ready for the show to start. 
Almost immediately, it began with amazing colorful patterns of dancing lights.  We all got a chance to shoot the lights well into the morning hours. Our group stayed together and shared some of their best shots with each other.  Throughout the night, we photographed all sorts of things!  We began with shots of the Northern Lights reflected in the rivers and streams that wound through the resort property.  We moved to shooting the ice museum and the streaking lights seemed to mimic the landscape.  As the group began to work its way through the area, everyone shared places they had found to shoot.  It wasn’t long before we found a line-up of old cabins hidden away, which made a perfect complement to photographing the lights.  By the end of the night we were exhausted, but the lights were still going strong.  I think most of us went to bed that night only to dream of what we had just experienced.  Even though the week held many highlights, it was this unforgettable night under the Northern Lights that we will never forget.