I'd always felt that staying upright and not letting the snow touch above my boots was a point of pride. Not in heli-skiing. When the chopper would come to pick us up, we had to lie facedown to avoid being blown off the mountain or getting chopped to bits by the rotor. The result was a thorough coating of snow. But at the end of the day, every icy flake was worth it.
Out of Bounds Adventures 800/435-5932 or 907/789-7008; full-day trip from $425 per person.
be a sport
For a so-called off-season, there are a surprising number of ways to work up some heat. You can ski downhill and cross-country at Eaglecrest ski area (907/790-2001); hike Juneau's 100-plus miles of trails (the Forest Service has maps: 907/586-8751); ice-skate Mendenhall Lake and snowshoe nearby trails (rent snowshoes at Juneau's Foggy Mountain Shop, 907/586-6780); go dogsledding with Chilkoot Sled Dog Adventures in Haines (907/767-5667); and kayak to a sea lion rookery with Out of Bounds Adventures (800/435-5932 or 907/789-7008). Still haven't had enough?Some of the world's best diving takes place in Juneau's clear winter waters—the Channel Dive Center (907/790-4665) can take you down.
Two centuries of Russian and American explorers, missionaries, and traders; a rich natural habitat; a thriving culture among Alaska's indigenous groups—all have provided enormous stock for the region's museums and galleries.
Alaska State Museum 395 Whittier St., Juneau; 907/465-2901. The century-old museum's 25,000 art pieces and artifacts include an exhibit that takes visitors from a forest floor, up a winding ramp, past bear and wolf dioramas, to an eagle's nesting site at treetop level. There's also a quirky 1905 totem pole in the image of Abraham Lincoln that commemorates a Tlingit's momentous first sighting of a white man (who, of course, was not Abraham Lincoln). And check out the early kayak— which got its name from the legend of the magical canoe that Kayak, a mythic hero, used in conquering a sea monster.
Sheldon Museum & Cultural Center 11 Main St., Haines; 907/766-2366. In 1893, at the age of eight, Steve Sheldon started his collection of papers and objects with a piece of the original transatlantic cable. In 1911 he moved to Haines and set up the Sheldon Museum, an impressive repository of items from Haines's early pioneer days and Tlingit history. Look for one of his more interesting documents, an order for medicinal opium that Sheldon (a U.S. deputy marshal, and the town druggist) placed with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. There are ivory carvings by Eskimos and ceremonial Chilkat blankets by the late Jennie Thlunaut, a Tlingit and one of the last master weavers, as well as examples of Alaska's finest Indian crafts, beadwork, and baskets, amassed by Sheldon's wife.
Alaska Indian Arts Historic Building No. 13, Fort Seward Dr., Haines; 907/766-2160. Watch some of Alaska's greatest carvers turn cedar, birch, and alder trees into massive totem poles. Historically, totems were used to display ownership, mark graves, honor tribal chiefs, or ridicule an offending neighbor. Today they are made-to-order at the AIA; they can take 750 hours and cost $2,000 a foot. (A Hollywood producer commissioned one for his wife, but never claimed it because the couple divorced in the three years it took to complete.)
American Bald Eagle Foundation Second Ave. at Haines Hwy., Haines; 907/766-3094. Bone up on the local environment before heading out into nature. Taxidermic specimens of more than 150 birds, fish, and mammals illustrate the Chilkat Valley's diverse wildlife. Guides are on hand to explain everything from the breeding habits of each animal to the region's food chain, not to mention the latest efforts to protect endangered species.
alaska's art darling
Rie Muñoz—Alaska's most famous living artist—has been documenting local life for over 30 years. With Chagall-like whimsy, 77-year-old Muñoz sketches the children, fishermen, and cannery workers she encounters during travels to remote islands and villages. She paints at her home on Juneau's Star Hill, which has also inspired many of her works. "It's a wonderful hill," she says. "Kids ski on the streets and play in clubhouses. There's also the Chicken Yard, a playground that used to be a real chicken yard belonging to some nuns who lived there. I can hear the bells ringing from St. Nicholas Church." Lithographs and serigraphs of her work ($45 and up) are on sale at the Rie Muñoz Gallery (2101 Jordan Ave., Juneau; 907/789-7411); originals are reserved for exhibitions.
where to eat
This is the frontier, so don't expect to eat as you would in Paris.
Hangar Pub & Grill 2 Marine Way, Juneau; 907/586-5018; dinner for two $40. Sourdough bread straight from the oven becomes a meal when paired with the chunky salmon chowder.
The Fiddlehead 429 W. Willoughby Ave., Juneau; 907/586-3150; dinner for two $75. Almost everything is local, from the art on the walls to the oysters on the menu. The casual lower level offers burgers and halibut tacos; upstairs there's live music and a fancier menu.
Valentine's Coffee House & Bakery 111 Seward St., Juneau; 907/463-5144; lunch for two $12. Where everyone goes at lunchtime. Have a mountainous sandwich (hummus with tomatoes and carrots on focaccia) or salad (Greek, Caesar, Thai). Come evening, pizza and concerts bring everybody back.
Silverbow Bagel Bakery 120 Second St., Juneau; 907/586-4146. Muffins, massive cookies, and bagels the New York way— hand-rolled and boiled.
Grizzly Greg's 126 Main St., Haines; 907/766-3622; lunch for two $12. To warm up after the four-hour ferry ride from Juneau, try one of Greg's calzones. As at most self-respecting pizza joints, there are red-and-white tablecloths and video games.
Mountain Market Third Ave. and Haines Hwy., Haines; 907/766-3340. The last stop before the Eagle Preserve. Fill your own thermos with coffee, or grab a cappuccino and a cinnamon roll. The fresh soups—tomato and rosemary, white bean and basil—are divine.
33 Mile Roadhouse Mile 33, Haines Hwy. (near Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve); 907/767-5510; lunch for two $15. Regulars say the burgers are Alaska's best.
shop to it
In winter, most of the touristy shops close. But at these worthy holdouts you might even spot locals. In Juneau, check out the new, the used, and the rare at Rainy Day Books (113 Seward St.; 907/463-2665); just around the block is the Observatory, a rare-book shop (235 Second St.; 907/586-9676). Most of the state's top artists are represented at Raven's Journey (175 S. Franklin St.; 907/463-4686). Pick up a pair of old-fashioned snowshoes or a turn-of-the-century basket from the Mount Juneau Trading Post (151 S. Franklin St.; 800/722-1909 or 907/586-3426). In Haines, Form & Function (209 Willard St.; 907/766-2539) has terrific beadwork and baskets. You can find contemporary jewelry and prints at the Wild Iris Shop (22 Soapsuds Alley; 907/766-2300), owned by former mayor Fred Shields and his wife, Madeleine.