Most Alaskans consider it a treat to see the Northern Lights, but some people travel hundreds, even thousands of miles to get a glimpse of the aurora.
A lodge in Bettles has become a destination for people who are eager to see what Alaska skies can offer, and according to owner Eric Fox, they come from all over the world.
Fox and his wife Heather bought the historic Bettles Lodge about 18 months ago. They wanted a different life than the one they had in suburban Chicago. They were novices at winter tourism, but say the attraction of viewing the lights above the Arctic circle is bringing a steady stream of guests who take the hour flight out of Fairbanks and pay a not-inconsiderable sum.
“This year the bookings have picked up,” Fox said. “Either the economy is getting better, word’s out that our customer service is better or something. Or maybe a combination of both.”
Fox says that Bettles — a town with a year-round population of 14 — is ideal for viewing the aurora because of its weather.
“We have the best weather officially in the state, the most clear days and nights,” he said
But also, he admits, some of the coldest.
“(We) are right next door to the coldest ever recorded temperature on the continent,” Fox said. “Gobbler’s Knob, it was 82 below zero in the late 70’s. “
Despite the challenges, Fox and his wife keep guests comfortable in their rustic lodge, serving hearty meals and lending out warm gear for outdoor activities that include dog sled rides and snowshoeing, in addition to aurora viewing.
Fox says he can’t guarantee that guests will see the lights, but the odds are good they will. At the very least, he says, he’ll do his best to ensure they have a unique Alaskan experience.