Aurora Borealis Fairbanks Alaska 2019 Trip Report

By Kevin McNeal on Apr 25, 2019

The 2019 Alaska Fairbanks Photo Safaris tour started off at the iconic Pike’s Landing restaurant overlooking the Chena River in Fairbanks. Trip participants got acquainted with one another over dinner, sharing past stories about where they had traveled and photographed. As each group member took turns talking about their quest to see the aurora borealis—aka, the Northern Lights—we learned that most had never seen them. This, they hoped, would be their first chance.
After dinner the group gathered back at the hotel where we set up our cameras for a possible aurora sighting. On this particular night, the town of Fairbanks was hosting an open house at Poker Flats to learn about the Northern Lights. Photographers, scientists, and enthusiasts gathered around to learn more into the late night.
The next morning, we headed to the Alaska Dog Mushers Association to watch a variety of dog mushers racing. We made sure to arrive early to get a chance to watch the whole process. It was fun to see how excited the dogs were to be at the event and the strong connection they had with their handlers. As the handlers prepare the dogs for the race, anticipation built until finally it was time for the dogs to bolt from the starting line. The group initially photographed much of this excitement from an open area and, after capturing some candid images of the group, we moved to a different location in the forest. From here you could see the dogs in full flight racing at top speeds around the corners.
In the afternoon the group prepared for our trip up to Mount Skiland—which claims to have the furthest north ski lift in North America—in hopes of seeing the Northern Lights. It wasn’t long after we arrived  that we got a first glimpse of the dancing aurora borealis. Throughout the next few hours the lights built up slowly as the group took it all in. Once people got comfortable with their cameras and photographing the aurora, we moved to an area where the complete arc of the lights could be seen. The group was able to experiment and capture the Northern Lights in all their glory.
Following our exciting night of the aurora, we headed to Chena Hot Springs Resort, located about an  hour from Fairbanks, where we planned to spend the next couple of days. The resort offers a unique location to see and photograph the aurora. During our days at the resort, we would take crisp winter morning walks and discuss all aspects of photography and learn more about the wildlife and landscapes of Alaska. On one of our afternoons there, we took a short trip to the Aurora Ice Museum where participants had the chance to photograph sculptures carved from ice blocks. The finished sculptures are illuminated from below with colored lights that  accentuate their forms and curves. Some of the group even got a chance to enjoy a nice cold “Appletini”—an apple martini served in a glass made of ice. We also used our afternoons at the resort to gather for lessons on photography and  image processing.
Our day trips by van offered our group the chance to get better acquainted as we searched out wildlife and landscape photo opportunities. We visited the local dog kennel where there are nearly 100 Alaska-bred husky dogs. In hope of being selected for sled rides, the dogs would howl with excitement and make funny noises. We learned all about the dogs and the history of the Iditarod. On the last day, everyone in the group got to take part in the dog sled rides, while others enjoyed photographing the dogs.
As the week was coming to an end the group headed back to Fairbanks for a final farewell dinner and a last outing to the World Ice Championships. This gave the group an opportunity to photograph some of the best ice sculptures in the world under the darkness of night. After the completion of the event the group said their goodbyes before getting ready to return home the following day.