Alaskan Terms
Home FAQ Fairbanks History Site Contents
Up ] Permafrost ] 



Alaskan Terms Defined

booties -- footwear for sled dogs made out of a durable fabric such as Gore-tex or leather to protect their paws from ice build-up or injury

breakup -- The end of an Alaskan winter, when the ice that has frozen the major rivers thaws.

brushbow -- curved piece on the front on the front of the sled to push brush out of the way

bush -- The parts of Alaska accessible only by boat or aircraft.

bush pilots -- Pilots of the small planes who provide transportation to bush communities and isolated destinations.

cheechako -- A newcomer to Alaska, what in the west would have been call a "greenhorn."

dog box -- a container for transporting dogs, usually made out of wood and carried on a truck. It usually has windows for the dogs.

Eskimo ice cream -- Traditionally made of whipped berries, seal oil, and snow.

gangline -- the line that runs between the dogs and connects to the object being towed.

handlebow- the part of the dogsled that the driver hangs on to, also called the driving bow.

ice fog -- A thick winter fog made of suspended ice particles that leaves the trees coated with ice crystals.

mukluks -- Eskimo moccasins.

muskeg -- Grassy swamp land.

musher -- a person who travels with dogs over a trail. Sometime he rides on the dogsled, and other times he helps by running alongside the dogsled.

neckline -- the line between the collar and the gangline, about 10-12 inches long, that keeps the dogs going in forward direction

outside -- Anywhere but Alaska.

parka --Traditionally a hooded fur coat made and used by northern natives, but now it can also be insulated with modern manmade materials like "thinsulate", and may have no fur at all, although usually winter parkas will have a fur ruff. Summer parkas of the more traditional styles have a skirt attached and are pulled on over the head.

pedaling -- pushing a dogsled with one foot while keeping the other foot on the sled

permafrost --  Permafrost is ground that remains frozen all summer. Follow the link for more in depth information on Permafrost.

qiviut or qiviuq-- An Eskimo word meaning the warm underwool of the muskox. Over 150 knitters work at home in isolated villages. Some designs were created by them, and some taken from traditional art. Each village has a "signature" pattern. Among the items made and sold in various outlets are scarves, hats, stoles, smoke-rings and tunics. Yarn for home knitters can be purchased from the INUA Wool Shoppe in the Goldhill area of Fairbanks - between Fairbanks and Ester ( 202 Henderson Road, zipcode 99709). Call (907) 479-5830, or if in Alaska, toll free at 1-800-478-9840. Raw qiviut is available for purchase at the University of Alaska's Large Animal Research Station.

rigging -- all the lines on the dogs and sled

snow hook -- a large metal hook used to secure a team without tying them, often anchored in the snow

solstice -- This refers to the point when the sun is at its greatest distance from the equator. In the summer, solstice occurs June 20 or 21, and marks the longest length of daylight

sourdough -- An Alaskan old timer.

stakeout chain -- a heavy duty chain to secure dogs at races and other places. It can be tied between two trees, two vehicles, etc. The chain has leads for each dog and is better than rope because dogs can chew their way through rope

tack- harnesses.

totem pole -- While many think of the Totem Pole as a symbol of native people & their culture, its production was limited to six tribes in British Columbia and southeastern Alaska.

Tribes which carved Totem Poles:

bulletBella Coola
bulletWest Coast

 Pole carving flourished in the 19th century, to tell stories or commemorate historical events. Each tribe had its own distinctive style. The figures carved weren't gods or demons, but symbolic, like the figures in European Heraldry. Totem Poles were not worshipped, but the stories they told often inspired respect or veneration.

tugline- connects dogsled harness to a gangline. It is about a yard long.

tundra -- There are two types of tundra in the world, Arctic and Alpine. The arctic tundra is at the top of the world around the North Pole. The tops of tall cold mountains are alpine tundra. The most distinctive characteristic of the tundra soil is its permafrost, a permanently frozen layer of ground which can be 2000 feet thick (see Permafrost). 

Shallow rooted tundra plants and microorganisms grow in the permafrost. The number of plant species is few, and growth is slow, with most of the biomass concentrated in the roots. The growing season is short, and plants are more likely to reproduce vegetation by division and building than sexually by flower pollination. 

Typical arctic vegetation includes cotton grass, sedge, and dwarf heath, together with associated mosses and lichens. Plant communities are adapted to sweeping winds and to soil disturbance from frost heaves. They are adapted to carry on photosynthesis at low temperatures, low light intensities, and long periods of daylight. Alpine plant communities, on the other hand, consist of mat-making and cushion-forming plants, which are rare in the Arctic. 

Land Animals:

Black bear: Usually black, with narrow pointed muzzle.

Brown/grizzly bear: Black to blond, large head, dished face, shoulder hump.

Beaver: Broad, flat tail, small ears.

Bald eagle: White head and tail, dark-brown body.

Caribou: Both sexes have antlers; brown with white neck and rump. See photo.

Coyote: Small, slender wolf.

Deer: Sitka blacktail; Southeast, Kodiak, Prince William Sound.

Red fox: Several color phases; bushy tail, sharp nose.

Snowshoe hare: Gray to brown, with black, white and red; white in winter.

Hoary marmot: Large, silver-gray, burrowing mammal; whistles an alarm.

Moose: Largest member of deer family; bull has antlers. A common garden pest, even in the state's largest cities, Anchorage and Fairbanks.

Mountain goat: Slender black horns, shaggy white coat and beard.

Muskrat: Large rodent with flattened scaly tail, water dweller.

Pika: Guinea-pig size, round ears; rocky slope dweller.

Porcupine: Black, yellow-tipped hairs and quills, small head, large body.

Ptarmigan: Chicken-like birds, ground dwellers, white in winter, brown in summer. The willow ptarmigan is the Alaska state bird.

Raccoon: Distinctive black mask, introduced species.

Common raven: Larger than a crow.

Bighorn sheep: Light coat, large curled horns; Canadian Rockies.

Dall sheep: White coat, golden curled horns; Alaska, Yukon.

Stone sheep: Darker than Dall; northern British Columbia. See photo.

Arctic Ground Squirrel: Rounded head and ears, burrower.

Red squirrel: Rusty red, tree-dweller.

Wolf: Averages 100 lbs., varying colors.

Marine Mammals:

Dolphin: Pacific White-Sided, distinctive high jump.

Sea otter: Webbed hind feet, floats on back while eating. Carries young on belly.

Dall Porpoise: Black and white, to 7 feet, cavorts around moving ships.

Steller sea lion: Hauls out on rocks.

Harbor seal: Earless, hair seal. See photo.

Northern seal: Eared, active on land.

Beluga whale: All white, to 16 feet, no dorsal fin.

Gray whale: Mottled gray, to 50 feet, no dorsal fin, large flippers.

Humpback whale: Small dorsal fin on hump

Killer whale (orca): Black and white. Males have tall, erect dorsal fin. Females have curved dorsal fin.

Minke whale: White band on flipper, small with narrow, pointed head.

Back to Top


Back to Top

For questions regarding this site, or for site updates, please e-mail our webmaster at "thewebmaster" @ "" after first removing the spaces and quote marks. See the FAQ for info on advertising on this site. This site of information is provided & Copyrightę1998-2015 by Aurora WebMasters, all rights reserved. This page last modified: Saturday, December 20, 2014.

Site built and maintained by Aurora Webmasters, member of The HTML Writers Guild Certified and experienced in securing high ranking keywords on search engines. Certified in Search Engine Positioning