Along the Sterling Highway, people pitch a small shack on a frozen lake to go ice fishing near Cooper Landing, Alaska, on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

Along the Sterling Highway, people pitch a small shack on a frozen lake to go ice fishing near Cooper Landing, Alaska, on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

Peninsula sees growth in winter tourism

While the borough’s ports and highways fill up with thousands of visitors from across the world in the summertime, more and more travelers are looking to experience Alaska and the Kenai Peninsula in the fall and wintertime.

Alaska has seen an increase in winter tourism, according to a new report from Anchorage-based research firm, the McDowell Group.

Locally, several chambers across the borough have reported seeing small increases in winter tourism.

In Seward, Cindy Clock, the executive director for the Seward Chamber of Commerce, said in an email that there has been a slight growth in winter tourism in the Seward area.

“Although we are too far south to promote consistent aurora activity, Silverton Mountain Guides has been offering heli-skiing for the past few years,” Clock said. “Activity, lodging and restaurant businesses have been evolving into year-round businesses as well since they too are aware of this travel trend.”

Cooper Landing has also seen growth similar to Seward’s, with a handful of businesses choosing to stay open longer in the winter, President of the Cooper Landing Chamber of Commerce Stephanie Lesmeister said.

“Several of our members are open this winter and seem to be staying steady,” Lesmeister said. “Local volunteers have been grooming the cross-country ski trails and that seems to draw people to the area. Additionally, fly fishing has been getting more and more popular and we seem to see people out fishing later and later into the winter.”

Lesmeister said Drifters Lodge, Sunrise Inn, Wildmans and The Inn at Tern Lake are a few of the local businesses that have stayed open for the winter.

Tim Dillon, executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District, said the winter tourism numbers in the borough are up.

“Borough-wide everybody is pretty pleased with the numbers we’re seeing,” Dillon said. “We’re seeing some growth.”

Over the last three seasons, winter visitation in the state has increased by 2.1 percent. The report said Alaska’s winter tourism has been growing steadily over the last decade, though still far below summer tourist numbers. The report says the number of tourists visiting between the fall and winter season of 2017 and 2018 was up 33 percent from a decade earlier. Data refers to the time period between the months of October and April, and both out-of-state and Alaska residents.

The report notes that the “Chinese market has exploded over the last several seasons.”

“The main draw is the northern lights,” the report said.

The report also notes that Girdwood’s Alyeska Resort reported “unprecedented growth in out-of-state visitation over the last several winter seasons.”

Dillon said local chambers are in a listening mode and are gathering information about what travelers might be interested in doing in the winter.

“Whether it’s northern lights, ice-fishing, snowmobiling, or other winter sports, the peninsula can really accommodate,” Dillon said. “Our tourism industry has really been able to hold its own.”

Reach Victoria Petersen at vpetersen@peninsulaclarion.com.

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