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.