Whitehorse, Canada (a.m.) / Skagway, USA (p.m.)

  • Date
  • 28 November 2001
  • Lodging
  • White House
  • Distance
  • 256 KM
  • Total
  • 232281 KM

Now, we find ourselves in legendary Alaska with endless stretches untouched and never explored by woman or man. In Skagway, the temperature is about 10C higher than in the Yukon, but biting wind-chill makes the outside just as menacing as the nearby Canadian neighbor. Many recent e-mails have questioned our sanity over visiting this part of the world in the winter! Travelers and tourists by the thousands, dropped by cruise ships at the Skagway port descend here during the warmer, more tolerable months, but I cannot imagine that the scenery is any more or as stunning and breathtaking as what we see right now: snow-capped mountain peaks, valleys shadowed by pink sunsets, icy, white-coated evergreens, frozen lakes and rivers, clumsy moose and gentler caribou moving through a white wonderland, chimneys spouting non-stop, teenagers in toboggans on snowmobiles, bundled-up babies wearing layers thicker than the width of their bodies, opened coffee shops serving piping-hot brew and endless other winter scenes.

Jim and I were fortunate not to face a serious blizzard since our stretch from Calgary, and, thus, we can now say, “This is the best time to visit!” However, the cold is unquestionable with –30 C (or –22 F) in Whitehorse (Yukon) the lowest temperature we’ve experienced on this three-year journey, or in my lifetime – colder even than our winter crossings through Iceland and southern Argentina. The chill around here goes directly to the bone, no matter how many layers we wear. The intensity of the cold, coupled with the wind, feels painful, particularly in the evening. The moisture in my nose even freezes when I’m outside. If I flare my nostrils, I can feel the ice breaking away from the hairs!

Here in Skagway (population 800), dark sets in by 4:30 p.m. at this time of year. Only two hotels/inns remain open in the winter, and we’re staying at The White House, owned by Jan and John Tronrud, who make us feel right at home. Only one restaurant, the Corner Café, operates during dinner, still closing at the wee evening hour of 7:00 p.m. With no other option, we dined there eating steak, mashed potatoes covered in a dark gravy that added another layer to my thighs, canned corn seasoned with butter, and thick, hearty vegetable soup. As expected, everybody inside knew everybody else and I fear that would get tiresome pretty quickly.

A few more options exist for lunch when a couple of quite homey-looking cafés open. A good book store, a couple of liquor stores, two clothing (cold-weather functional options) shops, a bar, jewelry shop and several closed galleries, cafés and tourist-oriented shops, along with a Shell gas station and lone grocery store, line the main and adjoining streets. Many homes have Christmas lights adorning shrubs, bushes and exterior windows, with thick shades inside to keep out the harsh cold. There is no gym in Skagway, but we found the recreational center, which has a basketball court and a weight room with a few machines. Yoga is offered tomorrow night at 6 p.m., so I plan on giving that a go.

Skagway, a town of 800 in the winter, is a different story in the summer, when about 10 hotels and bed and breakfast inns, along with a dozen RV parks, are packed with tourists, and the population swells to 10,000 including locals, temporary summer workers, tourists and cruise crews. I certainly like being here more now since we have the area all to ourselves and we can laugh, along with the locals, over “those” tourists. The older lady worker at the liquor store – the only place in town to buy a chocolate bar after 6 p.m. – and I shared a giggle when she explained, “By May, we can’t wait for them (tourists) to get here, but pretty soon after, we’re ready for them to be gone, so we can have the place back to ourselves!”