The advantages of going somewhere during the off-season are simple—better deals, smaller crowds —and they derive from the premise that off-peak travel must involve lowered expectations and certain compromises. A few rare places, however, hold hidden allure in the quiet months: castles on a rainy day, fishing-boat fairy lights, the braying of amorous penguins. As local experts make clear in the following year-round selection, you don't need to go peak to hit the heights.
According to Glenn Shaw, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Alaska, the only time you won’t see your breath in the blisteringly cold night air of Fairbanks is when it’s been taken away. The aurora borealis, which puts on its most intense shows around January, will do that.
“The sun is shooting out charged particles, and about three days later they hit the earth, which causes the aurora. So to some extent it can be forecast. And every 11 years, the sunspots are at a maximum—which is right about now, by the way.
“You see this absolutely glorious display of whirling colors all around the sky. It’s truly an amazing sight. I don’t think there’s any jaded soul who doesn’t just gasp and say, ‘My God, I can’t believe this.’
“A lot of Japanese people say that if a child is conceived under the aurora, he or she will be blessed with godlike attributes. So all these young Japanese couples come up here every winter and check into the hotels.”