Great Land of Alaska

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you have a question about Alaska? Ask me and I'll answer by e-mail or add it to this page if it's something I get asked a lot.


Do you live in an igloo?
Don't you get cold?
How do you keep warm?
What are bunny boots?
Is it really dark most of the year?
Do you have electricity and computers up there?
Is all of Alaska covered by ice?
Do you get a lot of snow?
Do you travel by dog sled?
Do you use Russian/Canadian currency?
Do you have penguins up there?
Have you seen any bears?
What kinds of wildlife have you seen?
Are Moose dangerous?
How much does the average king crab weigh?
Can you speak Eskimo?
Have you ever been in an earthquake?
What's the largest earthquake you've ever been in?
What is there to do if I visit Alaska?
What causes the northern lights?
Is it true that moose were attacking airplanes in Anchorage several years ago?
Do you eat whale blubber?
Can you see Russia from Alaska?
What body of water separates Alaska and Russia?
What bodies of water border Alaska?
How many mountain ranges are in Alaska?
What are the two major mountain ranges in Alaska?
Why does snow stay on mountain tops?
Why don't lakes and rivers freeze solid?
Why do lakes and rivers freeze but oceans don't?
How long is the Iditarod sled dog race?
Why does the sun not rise in Barrow during the winter? / Why does the sun not set in Barrow during the summer?
How many miles is it from Alaska to Russia?

Do you live in an igloo?

No, I live in an perfectly normal 7-plex. All cities and major towns in Alaska have regular houses, apartments, buildings, etc. Even in the bush, people live in houses.

Don't you get cold?

If I went outside in the middle of January wearing nothing but a t-shirt and shorts, then I'd get cold. However, like anybody else who lives somewhere that gets below freezing during the winter, I dress to keep warm.

How do you keep warm?

That depends on where I am and what I'm doing. In just normal travelling from home to work or to the store, I'm never outside long enough to get too cold. If I'm ice fishing, I can plan on being outside in -20° C weather for several hours, so I dress for it - long johns, jeans, sweater, button-up shirt, snowpants, down coat, face mask, scarf, thick hat, thick gloves, and bunny boots.

What are bunny boots?

Bunny Boots [picture] are extreme cold-weather boots. They are made of an inner and an outer layer of rubber so they are waterproof. Between the two layers of rubber is insulating felt, as well as as insulating layer of air. A valve in the side of the boot allows the wearer to adjust the air inside according to the outside air pressure. I've worn my bunny boots while ice fishing and while servicing a TV transmitter on the side of a mountain in the middle of winter, and my feet have never been cold.

Is it really dark most of the year?

This surprises a lot of people, but Alaska doesn't have more darkness than light. It may be dark most of the time during the winters, but during the summer it is light most of the time so it evens out. How long the darkness/light lasts depend on how far north you are. In Barrow, the sun may not rise during the middle of winter, and may not set during the summer. In the Southcentral, the sun does set during the summer but it may not get any darker than twilight. The sun does rise in winter but doesn't get very high as you can see in this picture taken near noon on the Winter Solstice.

Do you have electricity and computers up there?

How else would I have created this web page?

Is all of Alaska covered by ice?

Only about 5% of Alaska is covered by permanent ice. The rest of it is swamp, forest, mountain, plains, tundra, muskeg, marsh, etc.

Do you get a lot of snow?

That depends on where in Alaska you are. Some parts of Alaska are desert and so receive little precipitation in any form. Other areas can receive several meters of snow during the winter. In the part of Alaska I live in, we average a few feet per year.

Do you travel by dog sled?

I drive a Dodge pickup. In the city, cars are the primary means of transportation. In the bush areas, cars and trucks may be used, but 3-wheelers, 4-wheelers, and snowmachines are the main forms of transportation. Most dog teams that exist today are mainly used for sport, although a few bush villages still use dog teams for transportation.

Do you use Russian/Canadian currency?

We use American money. I have noticed, however, that many Alaskan stores and vending machines will accept Canadian coins. All the lower-48 stores I've been to refuse to accept any Canadian coins, period.

Do you have penguins up there?

Aside from the 'beanie baby' type of toy penguins, we do not have any, not even at the zoo. Most people associate penguins with snow, ice, and cold weather. Although we have the climate that people would expect penguins to live in, they are only found in the southern hemisphere.

Have you seen any bears?

I've not seen as many as a lot of people have, but I have seen a few. In my entire life in Alaska, I've only seen 6 wild Black Bears (2 of them were cubs) and about a dozen wild Grizzly Bears.

What kinds of wildlife have you seen?

I've seen moose, caribou, lynx, fox, coyotes, beluga whales, sea otters, harbour seals, sea lions, mink, porcupines, beavers, muskrats, rabbits, owls, eagles, hawks, and too many small critters to mention.

Are Moose dangerous?

Moose, if provoked, can be quite a deadly animal. A single kick from one can be fatal. There are a lot of moose in town and most of them will leave people alone if given enough room. There have been a few fatal attacks though, but these have happened because the victim came too close (not always intentionally--moose can be hard to see in the dark of night). I've heard (from professional hunting guides so I tend to believe this) that in the wild one often has more to fear from moose than bears in that a moose may attack without any provocation.

How much does the average king crab weigh?

An average Alaskan King Crab typically weighs around 10 pounds (4.5 kg) and its leg span is about 2 feet (0.6 meters). They can grow up to 24 pounds (10.9 kg) with a leg span of 5 feet (1.5 meters). The size typically caught by crab fishermen and sold in stores and restaurants is around 10 pounds.

Can you speak Eskimo?

First, I'd like to say there there isn't any single language that can be called 'Eskimo'. There are different groups of Eskimos in Alaska and they each have a different language such as Inupiaq, Yup'ik, and Siberian Yup'ik. The Native people of the area I grew up in were Yup'ik Eskimo so Yup'ik was the language spoken in that area. I know many Yup'ik words and phrases, but I don't know enough to carry on a conversation. It wasn't really necessary for me to learn Yup'ik since most people there spoke English as well.

Have you ever been in an earthquake?

Yes, lots of them. Alaska has over 1,000 earthquakes each year that measure 3.5 or higher on the Richter scale. Only a small handfull of these earthquakes are near enough to where I live for me to feel them.

What's the largest earthquake you've ever been in?

That would be the November 3rd earthquake of 2002, a 7.9 quake that hit the Alaska Range. I live quite far away from the epicenter so it didn't feel that severe to me, although the ground did shake for a long time.

What is there to do if I visit Alaska?

That depends on what you like doing. If you're into outdoor sports there's hiking, fishing, camping, kayaking, canoeing, and biking. If you're into history and culture, there's plenty of places to visit to learn about both, such as Anchorage, Nome, Juneau, Skagway, and many others. If you're visiting for the scenery and wildlife, there's the cruise through the Inside Passage, Kenai Fjords tours, many glacier cruises, Denali Park tours, the Alaska Railroad, dozens of flightseeing companies, and much more.

What causes the northern lights?

The origin of the Aurora borealis is the sun. Every now and then a solar flare on the sun's surface will send a bunch of charged particles hurtling through space. If the Earth is in the path of this cloud, some of the particles will become trapped in the Earth's magnetic field and will follow the lines of magnetic force to the magnetic north and south poles where they enter the atmosphere. As the particles encounter the various gasses of the atmosphere, they begin to glow in colors such as green (the most common color), red, blue, and violet.

Is it true that moose were attacking airplanes in Anchorage several years ago?

If that's what you heard, then somebody along the way has exaggerated the story a bit. Bull moose lose their antlers in the fall and often try to speed the process up by rubbing them again large objects such as trees or boulders. If a moose happens to be wandering through an airport when it decides to start scraping, it'll use any large object it can find, such as a small private single-engine airplane. Several small private airplanes near Anchorage's international airport were damaged this way, but no airplanes have actually been 'attacked'.

Do you eat whale blubber?

Maqtaq (whale blubber) isn't a part of my regular diet, but I do like it and will eat it if I get a chance. There's really nothting I can compare the flavor to, it has its own taste. It can be eaten raw (a little chewy) or it can be boiled (easier to chew). It goes well with seal oil and a little salt.

Can you see Russia from Alaska?

Little Diomede Island (Alaska) and Big Diomede Island (Russia) are only about 2.5 miles (4 km) apart so Russia can definitely be seen from Alaska as long as it's light out and the weather hasn't reduced visibility below a couple miles. As for mainland Russia being visible from mainland Alaska, I can't answer this question with any certainty since I've never been to Alaska's Seward Peninsula or Russia's Chukotsk Peninsula. However, with my knowledge of geography I can probably make an educated guess, and my guess is that the mainlands are too far apart (52 miles/83 km) to see each other. If the mountains on either peninsula were higher then it's more likely that you'd be able to see mainland Russia from mainland Alaska. After all, Denali is visible from Kenai and it's 180 miles/290 km away. However, Denali is 20,320 feet (6,194 meters) tall and the mountains on the Seward Peninsula and Chukotsk Peninsula are much, much smaller. I'd guess the best chance to see mainland Russia from mainland Alaska is to climb to the top of the York Mountains (just east of Wales on the western tip of the Seward Peninsula) on a very clear day and hope for a Fata Morgana. Without the aid of some kind of mirage, I'd say that it's impossible to see mainland Russia from mainland Alaska.

What body of water separates Alaska and Russia?

Alaska and Russia are such large areas that you could say that many bodies of water separate them. Between the Aleutian Islands and Russia lies the Bering Sea. Between Alaska's Seward Pensinsula and Russia's Chukotsk Peninsula is the Bering Strait. And the Chukchi Sea separates the northwestern part of Alaska and the northeastern part of Russia.

What bodies of water border Alaska?

Alaska has many bodies of water bordering it. To the north is the Arctic Ocean and Beaufort Sea. To the northwest is the Chukchi Sea. The Bering Strait and Bering Sea lie along the west and southwest of Alaska, as well as the north of the Aleutian Islands. The Pacific Ocean borders the southern coastline of Alaska.

How many mountain ranges are in Alaska?

This depends on what definition of "mountain range" you follow. Typically, many people and publications consider there to be 11 mountain ranges in Alaska: Alaska Range, Aleutian Range, Brooks Range, Chugach Mountains, Coast Mountains, Kenai Mountains, Kuskokwim Mountains, Nulato Hills, St. Elias Mountains, Talkeetna Mountains, and Wrangell Mountains. If you want to get technical, many of these groups are actually considered to be the same range, such as the Chugach Mountains and the Kenai Mountains or the Alaska Range and the Talkeetna Mountains. Then there are the mountains that aren't counted as mountain ranges, such as the mountains on the Seward Peninsula or the Yukon/Tanana Uplands. Of course, there are also dozens of smaller ranges within each of the ranges I've named. For example, Ahklun Mountains and Kilbuck Mountains, both subranges of the Kuskokwim Mountains.

See my Mountain Ranges page for more information on Alaskan mountain ranges.

What are the two major mountain ranges in Alaska?

The Alaska Range and Brooks Range are considered to be Alaska's two largest mountain ranges.

See my Mountain Ranges page for more information on Alaskan mountain ranges.

Why does snow stay on mountain tops?

Three factors, acting alone or in combination, allow snow to remain on mountain tops well into summer and even all year long: temperature, snow quantity, and sunlight (or lack thereof). Many higher mountains are so high that the temperature at their tops rarely climbs far above freezing, even in the middle of summer. Massive amounts of snow can create snow drifts so deep that it may take until July or even August for it to melt. This, combined with the lower temperatures at high altitudes, enables snow to remain on mountain tops long after it's melted from the lower areas. Finally, since the sun in Alaska remains relatively near the horizon in the summer, the northern sides of many mountain tops receive little direct sunlight, slowing the melting of the snow.

Why don't lakes and rivers freeze solid?

If they're small enough, they will. However, any lake or river of sufficient size will not freeze solid. The reason most lakes and rivers don't freeze solid is because water, ice, and snow are good insulators and poor conductors of heat. The portions of a lake or river that are exposed to the cold winter air will freeze into ice and this ice insulates the water below from further rapid freezing. Also contributing to the prevention of bodies of water freezing solid is an interesting characteristic of water. Like most other forms of matter, water become denser as it cools, but beginning at about 39°F (4°C) something odd happens - water begins to lose density as it gets colder, becoming least dense when it freezes into ice. This is why ice floats. As water becomes colder it rises to the top, eventually freezing to the layers of ice that are already there. Insulation of the water beneath is increased as the ice thickens so cooling of the water beneath slows. Many lakes will eventually freeze solid if given enough time. Fortunately, spring thaw arrives long before that happens. As for rivers, a river with a swift enough current will not freeze solid due to the constant motion of the water.

Why do lakes and rivers freeze but oceans don't?

Actually, oceans do freeze, although the high salt levels lowers the freezing point to around 28.4°F (-2°C). The polar ice cap that many of us have been hearing about so much lately is, in fact, frozen ocean. The ocean around Alaska freezes in the winter, with sea ice occasionally extending as far south as 60° to 62° N lattitude. The winter is not cold enough for long enough for more of the ocean to freeze, and with the arrival of spring and summer the warmer temperatures causes this ice shelf to melt. However, the parts of the ocean north of Alaska, Canada, and Russia remains frozen all year long although this ice cap is showing signs of shrinkage due to climate change.

How long is the Iditarod sled dog race?

The Idtiarod sled dog race begins in Wasilla and ends in Nome. It covers approximately 1,100 miles (1,770 kilometres).

Why does the sun not rise in Barrow during the winter? / Why does the sun not set in Barrow during the summer?

The Earth does not sit level in space. If you were to imagine a large, flat surface that the Earth and Sun sit on, you would notice that the Earth's North Pole does not point straight up, it actually points about 23.45° away from straight up. This tilting of the earth is why Barrow receives so much sun during summer and so much darkness in winter. The picture below illustrates Earth's position in relation to the sun during the four seasons. In this illustration, the red dot represents the North Pole (off to the side because the Earth does not point straight up), the yellow ring represents the path that Barrow takes as the Earth rotates, and the small green dot represents Barrow's position at mid-day at each of the four locations.

The Earth's position around the sun

Barrow is located relatively near the North Pole (approximately 71° 30" N), making it only about 18° 30" south of the North Pole. Since this is less than the Earth's 23.45° tilt, that means that Barrow has a lot of sunshine when the North Pole is pointed towards the sun in summer. The summer position in the illustration above shows how the Earth's tilt is such that Barrow's entire path is in sunlight during the longest days of summer. The illustration shows how the North Pole is tilted away from the sun during the winter and Barrow's entire path is in shadow.

How many miles is it from Alaska to Russia?

The Bering Strait is where Alaska and Russia are at their closest. The Russian and Alaskan mainlands are approximately 52 miles/83 km from each other. That's from the western tip of Alaska's Seward Peninsula and Russia's Chukotsk Peninsula. In the middle of the strait are two Islands, Little Diomede (Alaska) and Big Diomede (Russia). These two islands are about 2.5 miles/4 km apart.


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