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In Canada’s Yukon Territory, Northern Lights and Winter Fun

In Canada’s Yukon Territory, Northern Lights and Winter Fun

Frozen hair is a nuisance in most places, but at the Eclipse Nordic Hot Springs in Whitehorse, Yukon, it’s a higher calling. Every winter, hundreds of people try to freeze their hair into a troll-doll-like coif for a chance to win cash prizes of 2,000 Canadian dollars, or nearly $1,500.

And just in case that doesn’t give you goose bumps, Andrew Umbrich, 36, the hot springs’ owner and general manager, has opened a designated snow-rolling area to let bathers cool off without banging into the rocks surrounding the pool. “I have to give them a safe place to roll because they’re going to kill themselves on these boulders,” Mr. Umbrich said.

These are the kinds of safety considerations that tend to arise in rugged places like the Yukon, a roughly 186,000-square-mile wedge of northwestern Canada that extends from British Columbia across the Arctic Circle to the Beaufort Sea. Its long winter nights and boreal location make it a prime destination for viewing the northern lights, and with the sun’s magnetic field approaching the peak of its 11-year cycle, sending more charged particles into the Earth’s upper atmosphere, 2024 could bring the best displays in years (one reason Whitehorse landed on this year’s New York Times 52 Places to Go list).

Those long subarctic nights also make for plenty of pent-up energy, which Yukoners let off just as the sun begins to make its resurgence in February, with the joyous — and decidedly offbeat — Yukon Rendezvous, a festival in Whitehorse that celebrates its 60th anniversary this year from Feb. 9 to 25 with events like chain saw chucking and flour packing, not to mention the hair freezing.

Destination Canada, the national tourism board, has increasingly promoted festivals like Yukon Rendezvous along with other wintry experiences. While the bulk of travelers visit the Yukon in the summer months, winter visits were on the rise before 2019. After taking a hit during the pandemic, the number of international visits recovered, but remained 21 percent below 2019-20 levels last winter.

In 1988, Luann Baker-Johnson, 64, of Whitehorse, carried 494 pounds of flour for 30 feet to place second in Rendezvous’s flour packing contest, a grueling challenge that has its roots in the late-1890s Klondike gold rush.

Ms. Baker-Johnson, a glass blower and owner of Lumel Studios, now makes some of the prizes, including a nearly three-foot-long glass ax, for the festival’s competitions. Ms….

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