Howard Carbone knows Denali State Park inside and out. His ecotourism business focuses on getting visitors out into this landscape, which is not as well known as Denali National Park. In this hidden gem, visitors actually discover the best views of Denali – and much more.
Howard is also committed to protecting the area – through green business practices and work with agencies and local communities – to sustain forever the natural world that people come to Alaska to see.
Q. What do you do? What life experiences led you to where you are today? What’s unique about what you’ve created?
My wife and I are partners in raising our two great kids, and in our guided hiking business. Most Alaska tourism is focused on the way you are being moved through the landscape: planes, trains, and automobiles. Our trips focus on nature itself and our connection to it, and we move through it under our own power. We find that this gives our guests a more genuine, memorable, and meaningful experience.
I grew up in the Detroit suburbs, which was the wrong place for me. I was drawn to nature, fishing, critters, and outdoor exploration, so my favorite times were when I left the suburbs to go to camp or on Boy Scout trips. I studied biology, but always sought nature and wildness. I came to Alaska on a road trip in 1992, fell in love with it, and moved here for good the next year.
Q. What makes Alaska special for you?
I love Alaska for its wild country and the wild life you can live here. I love nature, and we have it in spades. I like to be awed and humbled by our grand landscape as much as I like sharing it with our visitors.
Q. What are your favorite places and/or experiences in Alaska? What do you remember most about them? What have you learned from them?
Talkeetna is a place that stands out in the world and people’s minds. Life is a bit out-sized here, and opportunities tend to come your way if you’re open.
I’ve played harmonica on reality TV, tried curling with a two-time Olympian, and talked my landlord – the famed mountaineer Brian Okonek – into taking me on his last expedition to the 20,310 foot summit of Denali. That was one of my favorite Alaska experiences.
I also enjoy our fantastic summer music festivals, close encounters with gigantic wild animals, and all the unusual opportunities that come our way at the end of the road.
Q. Tell us a favorite story from an Alaska trip.
We got a flat tire on our way to Fairbanks. We were already running late to meet a guy named Will, who was supplying canoes for a trip we had planned.
I hitchhiked to Fairbanks and got an assortment of items to fix the tire, along with, for some reason, a watermelon. (As it turns out, drivers cannot resist picking up a hitchhiker carrying a watermelon.)
Among the fascinating people who picked me up was a muscular musher woman, and a guy who was rushing to meet a group of people he was renting canoes to. Yes, it was Will, the same guy we were rushing to meet!
I finally got back to pullout and had just exactly what we needed to fix the tire. My friends had been sweltering in the sun all this time. Just minutes before I got there, one of them said, “Man, wouldn’t a watermelon be great right now?"
Q. How does the Alaskan wilderness make you feel?
Wonder, respect, challenge, adventure, peace.
Q. What inspired you to go into the Alaska tourism industry? What feeling or memory or change would you like your visitors to leave with?
My wife, Noelle, and I had been rangers and naturalists in and for Denali National Park for 12 years. We were expecting our first child and suddenly found ourselves unemployed.
We knew we had to make a bold move to stay in Alaska. Spending time in nature in uncomfortable situations and challenging conditions had given me the self-confidence to take that risk, strike out on my own, and see what happens. You have to leave the safety and comfort of your home to be able to find that place where you really belong.
Noelle and I drew upon what we did and knew best, aiming to get more of Alaska’s visitors to leave the tour groups behind and come explore the natural world with us.
For me, nature never gets old, even when I find myself on the same trail day after day. There are always new flowers blooming, new tracks to discover. When you go to the same place every day, your instincts grow very strong. You notice things nobody else does. Sharing this insight with guests helps them become comfortable and at home with the landscape.
Q. Alaska.org’s mission is to show visitors a more authentic Alaska experience. What are those qualities? How does it change an Alaska vacation?
For us, an authentic Alaska experience means getting off the beaten path and into pure nature, where you are immersed in the sights, sounds, smells, and feel of Alaska, in the company of a great naturalist guide.
Q. What are 3 words that sum up what Alaska means to you?
Wild. Awesome. Inviting.