Last weekend, snow appeared for the first time this winter, and with it comes anticipation of winter activities such as skiing, aurora viewing and ice fishing. As Alaskans, when the season changes, we don't just stay inside, we get out and embrace winter.

This winter is particularly exciting, with the anticipated December opening of Skeetawk, the Mat-Su Valley's first-ever triple chair lift downhill ski area in Hatcher Pass. The project has been in the "idea stage" for decades, but over the course of the last few years, a dedicated group of volunteers have made it become a reality. The ski area is scheduled to open the first weekend in December and be open weekends (and school holidays) through the spring. 

If you like to ski but prefer flat ground, the Government Peak Recreation Area has some of the best ski trails around. Once the conditions warrant, the lighted loop system is world class and very accessible at the base of Hatcher Pass. Wax those skis now so you're ready when there's enough snow!

Another top winter activity is snowmobiling - or "snowmachining," as Alaskans call it - in every corner of the Mat-Su. Petersville has an amazing trail system for riding, as does the Sheep Mountain and Eureka areas. Big Lake has a series of groomed trails, and the Knik River Valley is another top pick for locals. If you don't have a snowmobile, don't worry - you can rent them, or better yet, take a guided trip with a local tour operator.

In the winter, aurora viewing is at its peak, with Denali State Park and Hatcher Pass among the top places to see them without city lights.

Once there is enough ice, Valley lakes are popular for ice fishing. Many are stocked by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and it makes for a great family-friendly activity.

Get ready to throw on an extra layer of clothes and get out and enjoy the winter season!