Forums Splitboard Talk Forum driving Alcan in winter
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  • #573975
    83 Posts

    I know a lot of you have driven from the lower 48 to Alaska. Did any of you drive it in the winter? The reason I asked is because I’m moving to Cordova in Feb and I don’t want to leave my car behind. So how long did it take you to drive through BC and Yukon, and what was the road condition like in winter (can it be done)? And what should I expect? Please help out this clueless California/Hawaii boy, so he don’t end up dead in the ditch. Thanks in advance.

    376 Posts

    I’ve driven the Al-Can in winter many times.
    1. Where are you driving from?
    2. What king of car do you have?
    3. What tires do you have?
    3. When do you have to be in Cordova?

    Now here are some generalities. At Prince George you’ll have the decision of taking the Cassiar hwy or the Alaska hwy. DON’T TAKE THE CASSIAR. It is shorter but the road quality is substantially worse. It is narrow, winding, and has very few services along the way (even less in the winter). Also as it’s coastal you are much more likely to run into storms, and because it’s warmer ice on the road will be much worse. The Alaska highway runs inland so storms and icing will not be as bad, BUT….. it will be COLD! 40 below is not rare. There are still not an abundance of services along the way either so
    1. Bring a cold weather sleeping bag rated at least to neg. 40
    2. Bring a spare tire (two if you can swing it)
    3. Bring a jerry jug and keep it full.
    3. Stop for gas every chance you get. whether you think you need it or not
    4. Water and calories
    5. Bring books on tape/CD-music will get old and you need something to pay attention to to keep you awake.
    6. Watch out for moose, elk, and bison.

    And finally,there is no road to Cordova. You will have to take a ferry from Valdez so make sure to coordinate you schedule with the Alaska Marine Highway System.

    I’m more than happy to continue to help you plan for your trip. Answer the questions above and I’ll help you out with route and details.

    82 Posts

    Great advice for sure… Also something to consider is getting a battery warmer or a oil pan heater for when your not driving, plug that thing in when hopefully your cozy in the hotel! depending on where you’re driving from it could take a few days. From Oregon I’ve done it in three (lots of driving) but it was more relaxing in 5 or 6 days! Cordova will be great starting if Feb, good luck!

    spruce cabin
    263 Posts

    @peacefrog wrote:

    1. Bring a cold weather sleeping bag rated at least to neg. 40

    Wow! They make bags like this?

    Big Red
    3 Posts

    My advice would be to leave the car, fly into Anchorage buy a POS off of Craigslist and catch the ferry over from Whittier. Cordova only has a couple miles of roads, so a car really isn’t neccesary.

    You’ll save in time, gas and wear and tear on your vehicle. Not to mention the block and battery heater, studded tires, chains and those -40 bags ain’t cheap either. Not to mention you’ll need a 4wd and your car is practically guaranteed to get hit or hit something.

    1382 Posts

    Yeah, I’ve only driven in the spring, but I think keeping your battery going would be a priority in winter. All the other stuff mentioned too. Extra gas can, tire, survival gear: food, bag, water…

    Cassiar would suck in winter. It’s pretty and road really isn’t thaat bad, but services are real dodgy.

    29 Posts

    @boppingshoe wrote:

    clueless California/Hawaii boy

    There’s your first red flag!

    The Alcan in winter is no joke, but with a reliable rig and some preparation like Peacefrog suggests you’ll do fine. Your car better be in great shape because repairs can be really expensive and take a long time in the middle of nowhere.

    Big Red has some solid advice as well, but with the ferry out of Cordova you might want a better rig to explore the rest of the state. You might consider taking the ferry from Washington to Haines. The AK Marine Highway might connect all the way to Cordova as well, but why pass up a chance to heli in Haines in Feb?

    BTW, there is decent surf out of Cordova, so if you have a 5/4 or 6/4 and surf boards bring them along.

    83 Posts

    Hey thanks for all your comments. I really love this site because everybody treats everybody with respect no matter how stupid the question is. So Yeah I was kinda expecting this will be a mission to get up to AK in winter. But the good thing is that I have a month to consider all the options.

    To answer your (Peacefrog) questions:
    1. I’m Driving from San Francisco area, California (yeah go ahead and laugh)
    2. I have a 2006 Subaru Forester
    3. I have all season tires on the car
    4. I have to get to Cordova by Feb 16

    And yes I’m glad that I posted the question on this site, because I would be in seriously deep shit without all your expert advice 😳 I have a lot of homework to do.

    Big Red
    3 Posts

    Forgot about the ferry option. Definitley something to consider

    376 Posts

    I would only consider the ferry option if you are driving alone. It’s expensive to go from Bellingham to Haines and the Southeast ferry routes do not connect with cordova (this is not technically correct but practically correct). BUT driving the Al-Can alone sucks and is even more dangerous. As my dad always said “what’s an inconvenience for two people is life and death for one person”.

    Your car is perfect but your tires are not adequate. I would look at some studless snow tires. I’ve got the blizzaxe (spelling?). If you don’t have serious winter driving experience (snow and ice) I’d bag the whole thing and fly into Cordova and buy a POS there. Alternatively you may be able to barge your car into Cordova. Since you’ve got a solid rig you may want to consider that.
    If you are diving- give yourself 7 day from Seattle. I’ve driven the road many times in winter and it’s never taken me that long BUT I’ve been delayed by Avalanches, storms, repairs, you name it. If they all happen you could be fucked. Drive slow regardless of how the road appears it’s going to be icy. If it looks clear that could be even worse (black ice). Remember the gas and the break are your enemies-pretend you don’t have breaks and drive like that. Also no sudden movements with the steering wheel “nice and eeeassy”.

    I can’t stress enough that if you don’t have serious snow and ice driving experience THIS IS NOT THE PLACE TO GET IT.

    Enough doom and gloom, Cordova is awesome they’ve got a neat little ski hill and some great Backcountry. When you get close to getting there shoot me a message with your email and phone # and i’ll try to put you in touch with my buddy Tulley who lives there.

    If you decide you are driving I’ll have more to add.

    1382 Posts

    Wait, there’s no way to drive to Cordova once you get to AK anyway, is there?
    I don’t think driving solo should scare you. I drove to and from AK by myself. It’s intense, and winter would be much more so, but adventure is a good thing! You have time to figure things out and get prepared. As long as you have shelter, warmth, and food, it’s not like you’re gonna die if you break down or whatever.
    Just thought of some other things:
    Stove w/ fuel
    Matches/lighters obv
    Shovel to get unstuck.

    Go for it!!! :headbang:
    I really think a battery heater would be key (I don’t even know what one is 😳 ), but maybe an AK native can give some advice here.

    83 Posts

    Thanks again for your advice. I’m still weighing the options. Yeah I called the Alaska Ferry and they don’t connect southeast to Prince William Sound in Feb. I know I want to get my car up there somehow, so I’m also looking into the cost of shipping.

    I actually lived in the mountains (Lake Tahoe) for more than 5 winter seasons, so I had dealt with snow and ice. But I’ve never experienced -40 temperature, and a drive this long. So I understand if I decided to drive all the way to AK, it will be a serious endeavor. However, isn’t there a snowboarder that wants some adventure in all of us? Anyway, I figured, I need to winterize my car soon or later, so might as well do it now, even if I decide not to drive the Al-can.

    I really appreciate all the comments. Now I have different options to consider and be prepared. I’ll update all of you what I ended up deciding, and if I ever make it to Cordova in one piece.

    40 Posts

    I drove up in March one year in an 80s station wagon with rear wheel drive and “snow tires” on it, from New York, so it can be done. Just drove up last week from Montana in a forester with studded tires which was way better.

    I would recommend finding a friend to help drive, or taking the ferry part way to split up the drive time, but I’m pretty much over driving more than 10 hours at a go. Have made it from Seattle to Anchorage in 48 hours with basically someone driving at all times – save a stop at the hot springs.

    Solo I would head to Prince Rupert – stopping off at a few places along the way, at least at Shames. Take the ferry to Haines, there are two cabins freely available in the Pass. Stop there, ride then drive to Tok in a day, which is about 8 hours of driving. Then another 5 or 6 hours to Valdez where you get your car on the ferry for Cordova.

    Other than that most of what peacfrog said should get you through. Though I’ve never bothered to bring along extra fuel, and mark my fuel stations to buy as little as possible while in Canada. Podcasts are a life saver. Driving at night sucks as there are more animals out on the road. You probably will not see -40, but it is best to plan for it.

    It is not a battery heater you would really be interested in, but an oil pan heater. I wouldn’t bother unless you are planning on staying up here through next winter.

    376 Posts

    As long as you have shelter, warmth, and food, it’s not like you’re gonna die if you break down or whatever.

    With all do respect it is like that. People can and do die on that road and on the road between Fairbanks and Anchorage which is shorter and in better condition.
    It’s like going on a backcountry trip. You can prepare and you’re probably going to be ok, but everytime you go out you are taking your life in your hands.
    I personally dug out a car that had been buried by an avalanche between Ft. Nelson and Watson Lake. He would had died. He could not open his doors and he didn’t shut off his car (so he was poisoning himself with CO2).
    That said I’ve made the trip in winter 12 times without serious incident. Some of it is experience but there is a fair amount of luck involved. If you’re convinced you want to do this (which I’m not saying you shouldn’t I’m just being realistic) you should defiantly have someone else in the car with you (see if there is a ride share website of check craigslist) or better yet see if you can find other people heading up that you can caravan with and use 2 way radios.
    Staging your stops is very important. With the distances involved you can’t just blow by a town and say “I’ll stop at the next one”. Bring gas and stop often. I don’t care what anyone says about this! If the road is blocked by and avalanche in the middle of nowhere (aka everything north of prince george) your car and gas is your only source of heat and you will need it. If a storm stops your progress in the middle of nowhere (aka everything north of prince george) your car and gas is your only source of heat and you will need it. If you get more flat tires than you have spares in the middle of nowhere (aka everything north of prince george) your car and gas is your only source of heat and you will need it. If you run off the road in the middle of nowhere (aka everything north of prince george) your car and gas is your only source of heat and you will need it.
    And it’s not just you. My jerry jug of gas has saved people who were not prepared. People have to watch out for each other so you may not use that gas but you may run into someone who is out of gas and needs that.
    Battery heater-No necessary. If you were moving to Fairbanks I’d get one but for the trip I wouldn’t bother.
    Oil pan header- same as battery heater
    Block heater- I’d get one of these. You want to plug that in for anything under 20F which you will see in Cordova. My guess is that you won’t find anyone installing these in San Fran. You may be able to find someone doing these in SEA but I’m not sure.
    I tend not to take the ferry as it doesn’t really save you much mileage and it costs you time. Once you hit prince george its still about 500 miles to prince rupert (which is actually out of your way) Also the worst road conditions I’ve ever encountered have been on that stretch of road. 500 miles would get you to Ft. Nelson, which is getting you close to the home stretch. (but take this in context with my previous post regarding the ferry)
    If you do take the ferry plan on stopping in Juneau. I’ll take you to our local hill and on some back country tours.
    Keep me posted and I’ll help as best I can.

    668 Posts

    WTF?! I thought this was a splitboard site? Tell Dude the truth.
    Take a few weeks. Drive the Cassiar. Stop frequently at any of the mountains that will leave you drooling. Skin up mountains and ride down (carefully, of course). Post a TR. 😉

    83 Posts

    @fustercluck wrote:

    WTF?! I thought this was a splitboard site? Tell Dude the truth.
    Take a few weeks. Drive the Cassiar. Stop frequently at any of the mountains that will leave you drooling. Skin up mountains and ride down (carefully, of course). Post a TR. 😉

    Can’t argue with that. Most of us on this site live, eat, sleep, dream, get jobs, spend thousands on car and equipment for solely ONE reason. Although I tell my friends and family that I’m going to AK for a job opportunity, but deep down they all know the truth.

    But I want to get there safely! I can’t tell you how much I’m grateful for all your suggestions. I think I have enough information to make a sound decision (still in progress). Also, I have family and friends in Seattle and Vancouver, so I’m planning to stop there first and check the weather and road condition before committing to either route. I will leave later in Jan so that will give me enough time to play around and wait out for delays.

    Of course, I will look into finding a travel buddy. And why not start here? So if anybody is planning or interested in a road trip to Alaska in Jan/Feb, please let me know. Meanwhile, Have fun out there!

    376 Posts

    use full link
    try the ride share section for other cities too. Also can’t argue with lustercluck If you get a crew and can take two weeks then have an epic trip. If you’re planning on being on the road that long and camping anyway then the cassiar could be a viable option. All other comments still apply, and if you’re going the epic trip route (which I’ve always wanted to do but never had time) I strongly recommend two cars

    376 Posts

    Update boppinshoe?

    1382 Posts

    Last I heard he burned all his money and is living in a broken down school bus near the arctic circle.

    376 Posts

    Now that’s funny

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