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Magic is in the air and sky in Alaska during the middle of winter

Jan. 5—"Eddie, a moose is chasing me," my son Milo shrieked to his brother while racing away from a young male moose on a fat tire bike along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail in Anchorage's scenic Kincaid Park.

Apparently Eddie, 21, didn't see the moose as he flew past a curve less than a mile from the parking lot of Anchorage's largest municipal park. However, the "City Moose" apparently had a territory issue and Milo was eye to eye with the young bull.

Milo, 18, sped away. According to Eddie, at one point the moose's head was over Milo's shoulder as he galloped behind his brother.

"I couldn't believe what I saw," Eddie said. "If I only strapped the GoPro to my helmet. It was incredible! What a way to spend the Winter Solstice!"

Welcome to Alaska! The shortest day of the year provided what will probably be the longest memory for Milo and Eddie. The experience reminds me of ice fishing with a guide, who was from rural Maine, in Fairbanks two years ago. I asked why he moved from upstate Maine to Alaska.

"Because I wanted to go where it was wild," he exclaimed.

The latest trip above the Lower 48 was our third Alaskan adventure and second during the dead of winter and it's simply magical at this time of year. When we returned to Fairbanks the mercury dropped to minus 25 degrees, but it's colder in Chicago since there is little wind in Alaska.

We chased the northern lights at Borealis Base Camp, which is 25 miles from the urban illumination of Fairbanks on a property with 100 acres of forest. We hit paydirt that evening with the dancing lights of the aurora borealis. But that's not all that we experienced at Borealis basecamp. We walked through the stunning Alaskan wilderness with reindeer, enjoyed an exhilarating dog mush and were taken aback by dinner at the Base Camp bistro, Latitude 65. When you have the opportunity to order fresh-caught ivory king salmon, there's no alternative. The salmon with orange beurre blanc and saffron rice was delicious.

My helicopter experience the following morning was delayed since the mercury had to rise above minus 20. However, it was worth the wait as we flew from the camp to the White Mountains and landed at the peak. Three moose were spotted along the way relaxing in the snow. The flightseeing in the four-person copter was akin to Disney World's Soarin' ride. The views were dramatic and the timing was perfect, as the sun was finally up at 11:30 a.m. The helicopter couldn't have been more stable, thanks to the lack of wind.

We returned the following day to Coldfoot, which is an 11-hour drive up the Dalton Highway, courtesy of Northern Alaska tours.

Coldfoot, population 34, was a highlight since we chased the aurora there in 2022. The experience was about the journey as much as the destination. Along the way, we were edified by our bus driver, Sabrina, who provided detail about the history of Alaska and what we would see on our way toward the winter hinterland. While driving north on the Dalton Highway, we made a number of stops. We walked along the frozen Yukon River, strolled under the Alaska Pipeline and had hot chocolate at the Arctic Circle. Trees are completely caked with snow. We learned that only 5% of Alaskans have trekked above the Circle.

That evening, we drove north to Wiseman and were fortunate the skies cleared enough to catch another lovely aurora show. Jack, our guide, provided extensive detail about the aurora and the desolate area, which is filled with wildlife.

We were surprised the following day when we were informed that our prop plane would not fly to Fairbanks due to a surprise snowstorm. While we were on the lengthy journey back by van, I told my sons to look at the bright side and that perhaps we would experience something extraordinary.

It happened eight hours into our journey. Our van driver pulled over.

"We have to get out now," Sabrina said. "I can't believe it."

We were blown away by the most dazzling aurora show we've ever experienced. The entire sky lit up, and the aurora danced in every direction. It was so magical that it's hard to imagine the most jaded person being anything but giddy while witnessing a natural light display shimmering in the sky 60 miles north of Fairbanks.

The following day it was off to Anchorage and the Alyeska Resort, which is on more than 1,600 skiable acres, including the longest black diamond run in the country.

My sons, who are all about the most challenging courses, took some chances since the mountain was hit with 6 inches of fresh powder during our ski day. Hitting the snow was like landing on a pillow. I avoided the black diamonds but there was considerable variety, since Alyeska is home to 76 named trails. The views on the Chugach Mountains are breathtaking.

After a day of skiing, we relaxed at Alaska's only Nordic Spa, which is housed at the Resort. It was the perfect way to rejuvenate after a long day of skiing. We alternated between hot and cold pools in the middle of the northernmost rainforest. I stared up from the hot tub into the snow-covered pine trees. After relaxing in the sauna and steam rooms, we capped the experience at an exfoliation cabin.

The following day we embarked on a scenic mountain tour via snowmobiles in a gorgeous mountain bowl on private trails around an old gold mine with views of the immense Chugach Mountains. We were led by a guide from Glacier City Tours, and we were left slack jawed by the end of the three-hour run, which included a lunch break featuring reindeer sausage. There was nothing like racing through the trails at 30 mph trying to keep pace with my speed-demon sons. It was an intoxicating experience, which was capped by a surprising appearance by the sun as we hit the peak of the trails. It was the highlight of the trip, and Milo, who hit his 50th state two years ago, proclaimed that Alaska is his favorite, even over idyllic Hawaii.

"I can see living in Anchorage and getting a snowmobile," Milo said.

But within 24 hours Milo wished he was on a snowmobile on Knowles Coastal Trail as he could practically smell moose breath while on the most meaningful bike ride of his life.

"Go, Milo," Eddie shouted, as he decided to retreat as the moose approached.

Fortunately for Milo, the moose relented and just stood on the path, staring at him from a welcome distance before devouring some brush. While I was blocked from the boys, a middle-aged woman drove her bike within 5 feet of the moose. Eddie tried to stop her. She said, "I know what I'm doing. I'm a local."

I watched in fear, since moose are unpredictable. "C'mon, buddy, move along," she said. The moose started to walk toward her and she backtracked quickly.

My only option was to walk along the frozen lake, but as I left the trail, the moose surprisingly followed me. I quickly turned my bike, which was used as a shield. However, Bullwinkle veered from my area and decided to walk straight out onto the lake.

The moose stories were recounted at 49th State Brewing, which serves up a terrific selection of microbrews, which range from Smok, a frothy, smoked lager to the full and rich, Seward's Folly, a Russian Imperial Stout. The scents emanating from the home-brewed concoctions were as memorable as the taste, including the soft drinks. The aroma of Milo's pumpkin pie soda is etched in my brain.

The yak, not a moose, burger, which is lean and tasty, especially when topped with caramelized onions, applewood smoked bacon, smoked Gouda and lettuce, tomato, onion, mustard and pickles on a pretzel bun, made for a fine last Alaskan meal.

Alaska is a land of the unexpected. Hello, Moose. Our moose encounter was random and we lived to tell the tale. Alaska is wilder than the Lower 48 and it's truly a majestic sight during the winter and not just due to the Aurora. You can visit Alaska 10 times and feel as if the surface was barely scratched.

It's so close — Alaska is the northernmost Pacific Northwest — yet it's so far away. Wiseman to Spokane is practically the same distance as Spokane to New York City. However, a roundtrip to Anchorage via Alaska Airlines, Delta or United can be had for as little as $300.

"It's a tale that I'll tell my grandkids," Milo said. "For me, to have a problem with what happened is like someone swimming off the coast of Australia and having a shark encounter. I was in the moose's element.

"My reaction after going through that and thinking about what I experienced on this trip is that I can't wait to get back to Alaska. There's no place like it."