My sister may be moving to Fairbanks - What's life like there?

The military has offered her husband (a retired Top Sergeant) a job in Fairbanks. Can anyone give me the lowdown on what life is like? They aren’t sure if they’ll be offered base housing - what are housing costs like? And I’ve always heard the cost of living was very high in Alaska. Can someone give me the lowdown on life in Alaska? We’ve lived in Minnesota, so cold is nothing new, although life in Tennessee has probably softened us.


I don’t know. I will add this, though: My nephew is currently stationed in Anchorage. While he was there, he has visited Fairbanks.

His opinion: Having seen Eielson and Fairbanks, he’s very happy to have been stationed in Elmendorf.

Fairbanks has all the charm and social life of Lawrence, Kansas. At 3am. On a Sunday. Tell her to prepare for the worst she can imagine.

Well, my sister’s pretty much a stick in the mud. Although if she could find someone to play cards or board games with, she’d be happy.

FWIW, she and my B-I-L are about 50 and not drinkers or really much in the way of social beings. A movie theatre and bowling would be a good diversion.


Clearly you’ve never been in Lawrence, KS. Now if you’d said Manhattan, KS I might have agreed with you but honestly I’d have picked Columbia MO.

Was that before or after it got nuked? Sorry, but can’t help this obscure reference.

After, of course! The day after. :smiley:

Remember that for half of the year it’s not just really cold but also really dark. I don’t think Fairbanks is far enough north that they’d get darkness at noon, but the winter days will be exceedingly short.

Summer nights will be correspondingly bright, which can be disconcerting as well, but not as gloomy.

Isn’t Lawrence where U of K is located? Or maybe I’m thinking of Kansas State, but one of them anyway.

It’s difficult to imagine a secular university town being completely dead.

(BTW I do get the nuke reference. The main character had been a professor at said University).

The University of Kansas (KU) is in Lawrence. UK is the University of Kentucky in Lexington KY, and finally Kansas State University is in Manhattan, KS. That nasty school, the University of Missouri is in Columbia MO.

I have a BA from KU and an MS from KSU :smiley: And yeah Lawrence actually has an entire museum district, it’s far more cultured than most expect.

Link to the Fairbanks article on the Milepost website (and a plug: anyone even contemplating a move to the Last Frontier needs to get themselves a copy toot sweet).

Nothing much else to add, other than an observation that Minnesota does not necessarily prepare one for Fairbanks. Does Minnesota get ice fog?

I’ve met some people from there and all they say is that it’s small and absurdly cold.

I read somewhere once - it actually might have been here on the dope - that a simple walk from class to the dorms at the UofA Fairbanks can and occassionally does turn deadly due to the nasty weather.

From odds and ends that I’ve heard over many years, Alaskans seem to be conservative politically and socially, much like Nebraskans or Kansans, or residents of any of the big states that don’t have a lot of people or cities. But they also have a libertarian streak; for a few years, private use and possession of marijuana was for all intents and purposes legal. This was ended in the same way it was begun, by a court decision, but it remains the only instance in recent history when personal use of MJ was completely legal under the laws of any state. It could explain why Palin, though belonging to an abstentionist Christian church, opposed a move to reduce the hours during which alcohol could legally be sold. Or perhaps she wanted to increase them, I don’t remember which. Chefguy could help us out a lot in this thread.

I would have said Palco, Kansas but that place is barely a dot on the map. 295 people and I’m related to half of them.
In any case, Fairbanks is the back of beyond, and a miserable place to be at any time. If it isn’t COLD and frozen, the blackflies and mosquitos are eating you alive. The job better pay a bundle and a half, and be over in less than 2 years, or the OP will probably seriously regret the move.

It has been 29 years since I was in Fairbanks but I’m told it is still a small city, much smaller than you’d expect for a town practically every one has heard of. It is very cold and dark in the winter.

If your sister is a homebody type as you say, she might be just as happy there as anywhere. When I was there the library was great and I met interesting people but anything else I could say would be out of date. Is there any way the employer might bring them up for a visit?

Yeah, there are lots of mosquitos, but they don’t bite me much.

The cold in Fairbanks is quite a bit worse. The average low in January is -11. The average low in Minneapolis in January is 4. So a full 15 degrees colder on average. I’ve seen -40 there for a full week, although that is possible in MN as well from what I hear.

Lots and lots of military retirees in the area. I was honestly shocked at the numbers. Your sis and bro-in-law will find people they can do stuff with during the cold winter months and long summer days. I found a community spirit in the area. After all, there’s only about 30,000 people in the metro, probably close to half are military or dependents. University of Alaska’s main campus is in Fairbanks, so there’s an active, um, college scene. You know, like the plays and the basketball and the hangouts.

There are two bases, Eielson AFB (small) and Fort Wainwright (large). They’ll be able to use the BX/PX and commissaries at both bases. A couple years ago they built a new hospital at Wainwright. Beautiful place. Should they travel to Anchorage, the situation’s reversed; the AFB is larger (Elmendorf) than the Army base (Fort Richardson). Elmendorf has a large modern hospital too. The wings are named after indigenous animals: moose, bear, and, uh, I forgot what the mental health wing is.

It’s a beautiful 6-hour drive to Valdez, Alaska. Picturesque fishing village. Take the other road and be in Anchorage in about 8 hours. Anchorage has over 300,000 people, so it’s like a small Seattle. Most chain stores, restaurants, and hotels are there. Homer’s a few hours away from Anchorage. There are interesting stops along the way on all these drives. It seemed like I always ran into someone I knew when I stopped for gas. The whole “small world” thing, but pleasant. There are non-stop flights from Fairbanks to Anchorage and to Seattle for when they need to get out of Alaska.

When I was there, it seemed like there was always something going on, summer or winter. In the summer, it’s beautiful. On the solstice we have a baseball game at midnight. Not all the RV’s are from out of staters. If sis and bro-in-law are motorcycle riders, they’ll have tons of fun having so many hours of sunlight and miles of open road. People from the university, I think, build a few trebuchets near North Pole while it’s warm and green. Winter has Yukon Quest and Ice Festival plus snow mobiling and some hunting and probably more, but I’m not an outdoorsman except to take pictures. Only about 10 minutes’ worth in the coldest of winter before the batteries peter out. I forgot about fall; it lasts 3 weeks. Spring thaw for us doesn’t seem to be long as in Anchorage. Damn, they thaw and freeze a few times before it finally stays thaws for good.

Sis and bro-in-law won’t have to make that trip to the “big city” as often because a few years ago we got not only a Walmart and spiffy new Fred Meyer, and added a Chilis, Barnes & Noble, Old Navy, both Home Depot and Lowes, and a Boston’s. I’m sure there are more since I went overseas a couple years ago.

Yes, it’s expensive to get housing in the Fairbanks area. Except for the military and tourism, there’s not much going on. I couldn’t discern a reason to justify the prices. I doubt sis and bro-in-law qualify for onbase housing. I think that’s only for active duty. I would expect they’d want somewhere either nicer or with better climate control than base housing. Home furnishings weren’t all that much more expensive than the lower 48, I guess because the shipments from Asia were break-bulked in Seattle then barged up to Alaska. I’d imagine that if they needed major furniture they’d go onbase and pay whatever AAFES charges if local stores were too pricey.

Food was somewhat hit or miss. Fresh veggies were usually noticeably more expensive than California but a lot of packaged food was about the same price. I can’t vouch for the commissaries, though, because I wasn’t qualified to use them, but I often saw military doing major shopping at the Fred Meyer. Restaurant prices were pricey, generally. Crappy diner meal when I was there for $12 that would be probably $6 down south. Thank goodness for Chilis! Lots and lots of coffee shops and drive-thru kiosks.

Having said all that, most employers know the approximate cost of living and adjust salaries accordingly. As with any relocation to a new area, have your sis and bro-in-law check the local costs so they know how much they’ll need to ask for. They shouldn’t be shy about asking for what appears to be a lot of money; it simply costs more to live there.

Oh, about the winter. Yes, it gets to -40 and below, but it’s not as uncomfortable as you’d think. Unlike Minnesota and upper midwest, there’s absolutely NO wind. Nada, zilch. No -20 but feels like -40. We only have to dress to fight the cold, not keep the winds from sucking all the heat out of our exposed skin. Something else, there’s no humidity. The cold doesn’t stick to you like it does here in England or Minnesota. I wore summer weight wool dress pants, suitable for California, all winter long, never getting frostbite or noticing the cold. Before you accuse me of being in the cold only 30 seconds from warm building to warm car, no. Not me. I refused to pre-heat my car like others did. By the time my car heater started putting out heat, I’d be home. I’d drive with my window open so my breath didn’t freeze on the windshield. I’d be in the cold for almost a half-hour but I still didn’t need heavy pants. Other than the pants with no longjohns or anything, I wore a lined lambskin jacket, two pairs of gloves, and, most importantly, a fur hat. I looked like a deranged mountainman* but, dammit, I was comfortable! Tell them to spend the money on quality winter headgear, they won’t go wrong.

When they’re buying the extension cord for the engine heaters for their car/truck, tell them to get one with a light on the outlet. It’s not fun to plug you heater into a dead outlet. You will NOT get your car started in the morning, even if you run 0 weight oil in it. Personal experience speaking, thankfully on a Saturday morning.

To sum up, I think your sister and brother-in-law probably will enjoy the area simply because they’ll be able to make friends easily with so many other people with similar experiences. The winters aren’t as bad as they’d think and the prices are high but employers know it. Feel free to PM me if you have other questions from someone registered to vote in North Pole!

  • A tourist took my picture in the Fred Meyer parking lot because he’d not seen anyone wearing a hat made from wolf before. I’ve never been a landmark before.

Gotta try harder, even I got that one. And Lithgow says Missourah in it too.

Caractacus Pott - He will be working for the military as a civilian contractor (I think, I don’t think they’re giving him back his rank). He’s in military intelligence and they’ve been stationed in many places in Europe. They’ve been living in Missouri (Or Missourah) so they aren’t used to bright city lights.

Thanks for all the helpful info.


Well, I grew up in Fairbanks Alaska.

It sure isn’t the miserable hellhole that some here have claimed.

It isn’t above the artic circle, so you don’t get 24 hour darkness in the winter. Just close to 24 hour darkness. And you get several hours of light sky before the sun rises and after the sun sets. Of course in the summer you don’t get 24 hours of sunlight either. But the sky never actually gets dark. The sunset turns into sunrise with no intervening period of darkness. Stay up to 2:00 in the morning and you’ll see the sun peeking over the horizon as you head home to bed.

And yeah, it’s cold in the winter. 40 below is commonplace. And 60 below isn’t unheard of, although 60 below is less common nowadays than it was even 20 years ago. But Caractacus is correct that when it gets cold in Fairbanks there is absolutely no wind. And you get ice fog thick as peanut butter. And there is absoutely no humidity at 40 below.

Fairbanks itself has 30,000 people, the metro area including North Pole and so on bring that up to 75,000. But the nearest city is Anchorage. An 8 hour drive away. Anchorage is the only real city in Alaska, Fairbanks is the second largest city and it sure ain’t a big city.

Socially, although Fairbanks is a small town, it isn’t like the “small towns” in the south. People mind their own business. And the place is infested with retired military people, so if you’re concerned about social life you’ll find lots of like-minded people. I currently live in the Seattle area, and when I go back to Fairbanks I’m always surprised by how racially diverse it is. As in, lots of black folks in Fairbanks, most of them from military families. Lots of Koreans, and lots of Alaska Natives. Plus you’ve got the University of Alaska, which although it isn’t that large has some top notch people…in certain fields. If you want to study native american languages, or geophysics, or archeology, or biology, it’s a great place. If you want to study American literature you might want to reconsider. Fairbanks really is a very cosmopolitan place, with people from everywhere with all sorts of backgrounds. The one thing about Fairbanks is that unless you’re born there, you have to have some sort of compelling reason to end up there.

You don’t get that many black flies. You do get mosquitos. Lots and lots of mosquitos. If you’re out in the woods, prepare to get attacked. But any place with a bit of a breeze, or away from the muskeg, and you’re fine. Just make sure your window screens are up and don’t leave the front door open. But if you’re out hiking and keep walking and try to stick to ridgelines you’re fine.

As for food prices, it’s pretty much the same as everywhere else for non-perishable goods. Fresh produce has to be flown in, but the grapes you find in the supermarkets in Seattle were probably airlifted in from Chile anyway, so the differential isn’t as large as you think.

Any other specific questions?