Under a blue bird sky last Sunday, thousands of people gathered at Willow Lake to send off the mushers in this year’s Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Events like the Iditarod restart are important to the local tourism industry, as it brings in revenue during the off-peak season.

It’s no secret that the major part of the tourism industry is the summer months. At the Mat-Su Convention and Visitors Bureau, we don’t like to think of the winter as the “off-season” as much as the “opportunity season.” There is great opportunity to grow winter tourism in Alaska, and events like the Iditarod are cornerstones in helping grow that market.

At a recent National Tour Association convention, I had appointments with national tour operators who are looking to grow their Alaska business. It’s a convention I attend every year, because you make important contacts that ultimately lead to increased business in the Mat-Su. This year, I had more conversations about winter tourism opportunities than I can ever remember.

On a statewide level, winter tourism has been a major focus. In October, the Mat-Su CVB hosted a successful winter tourism summit in Talkeetna. A big part of the discussion was the importance of events like the Willow Winter Carnival, Talkeetna Winterfest, Colony Christmas, Iron Dog, Big Lake Winter Fest, Iditarod and the Oosik Ski Race have on bringing people to Valley during the winter. As these events grow in popularity, the local tourism industry grows as well.

The Iditarod is a perfect example. Many national tour operators and several Alaska-based operators offered package tours that not only include the race restart in Willow, but also Fur Rondy in Anchorage and the World Ice Carving Championships in Fairbanks. Several tour operators based in Anchorage reported their tours sold out. One local flightseeing operator has 50 clients on a “Chase the Race” package. Those types of tours bring in a lot of visitors — and visitor spending — to the Valley during March.

Another example is Talkeetna Winterfest, and the highly successful Bachelor Auction and Wilderness Woman weekend. Restaurants are filled, bed and breakfasts are booked to capacity and stores in Talkeetna are bustling with activity. The event is held in December, yet visitors flock to the area due in part to a successful event.

The money that is infused into the local economy due to these events often gets circulated throughout many sectors. That flightseeing company? In order to meet the demand, it had to pay mechanics, buy extra aviation gasoline and hire pilots. During Talkeetna Winterfest, innkeepers and restaurants had to buy food for their guests, hire additional staff and have supplies on hand. That is revenue that benefits the whole Valley economy, not just the tourism industry.

Casey Ressler (casey@alaskavisit.com) is the marketing and communications manager at the Mat-Su CVB.

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