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Even PlayCraft is Different in Alaska

July 2009 Feature Brady L. Kay
 If you think your boating season is short, try pontooning in Alaska. In a state that is rightfully known as paradise for outdoor recreation, you probably won't see too many water skiers in May. But you'll be surprised how quickly the water does warm up, especially when you're dealing with 22 plus hours of sunlight a day during the peak of the summer. But to extend your season, a little change needs to be made and that's where one PlayCraft dealer is thriving. 
One thing that will jump out at you more than the surprising number of PlayCraft pontoons on Big Lake in Alaska, is the full enclosures on most of these pontoons. 
Big Lake is a community on the shore of Big Lake, roughly 13 miles southwest of Wasilla, in the Chugach Mountains. It lies adjacent to Houston and Knik-Fairview. 
Bill and Helen Heairet, owners of XTreme Marine & Sports, continue to keep the Missouri-based PlayCraft busy with orders heading far north. 
"The full-enclosure boats have done very well here," said Helen. "Being able to extend the season is just a way of life in this area."
We had met this couple at their dealership, but we were ready to get out on the water and take a tour of Big Lake. We climbed into Bill's bright yellow truck that seemed to be a perfect reflection of the manufacturer's philosophy. PlayCraft is known for its bright color schemes and racing graphics on its performance pontoons and this truck looked like it came directly from the Missouri plant.
Even though we were just days away from June, it was still a little chilly in the early morning when we arrived at Big Lake. We weren't used to seeing fully enclosed boats, but it didn't take us long to warm up to the idea. 
"In the winter the only way you can access some of these homes is by driving on the ice," explained Bill as he pointed to the homes that were built on islands. "It seems like someone will lose at least one sled or four-wheeler each spring when the ice is just starting to melt." 
Protected from the elements during our cruise, we looked around in awe at the beautiful homes as well as the surrounding area. There was no question about it, this was a pontoon lake and PlayCraft boats could be found at almost every turn. It was still a little early in the morning to be thinking about lunch, so we weren't able to stop at any of Bill's favorite on-the-water restaurants. We were still getting used to the 20 plus hours of daylight in Alaska anyway, and it actually felt like we had been up for hours. 
On the way back to the XTreme Marine & Sports dealership, Bill made a quick stop at Happy Trails Kennels. He was looking for his friend and four-time Iditarod Champion Martin Buser, who is a legend in the trail sled dog race world. For those familiar with this race, you understand that you can't possibly compare the Iditarod to any other competitive event in the world, and the more we talked with Bill, the more we realized that this is true.  
"The race is over 1150 miles of the roughest, most beautiful terrain Mother Nature has to offer," reports "She throws jagged mountain ranges, frozen river, dense forest, desolate tundra and miles of windswept coast at the mushers and their dog teams. Add to that temperatures far below zero, winds that can cause a complete loss of visibility, the hazards of overflow, long hours of darkness and treacherous climbs and side hills, and you have the Iditarod. A race extraordinaire, a race only possible in Alaska."
From Anchorage, in south central Alaska, to Nome on the western Bering Sea coast, each team of 12 to 16 dogs and their musher cover over 1150 miles in 10 to 17 days. It has been called the "Last Great Race on Earth" and it has won worldwide acclaim and interest. It's not just a dog sled race; it's a race in which unique men and women compete and it's a race that Buser has finished in first place an amazing four times over his career.  
From Happy Trails Kennels, where his dogs were actively reacting to us being there, we could see a house being built on a hill just a short distance from us. Buser was working on building his new home at the time and so after a quick tour of the kennels we headed up to meet the legend.
Buser kindly welcomed us into his under-construction home and we headed for the roof. The view was nothing short of spectacular as we were able to see for miles in every direction. It was nice to meet and talk with this iron man that is a true inspiration to not only those in this region, but to people in other countries as well.
Our last stop before returning to the dealership was to a nearby diner for a good local hamburger. Bill is a regular here and this was one of those places that we might not have spotted without local help, but we sure were glad we did. 
Our time with Bill in Big Lake was coming to an end as we said our goodbyes and headed back to Anchorage. When you think of Alaska you think of fishing for halibut, hunting elk or moose or hiking to glaciers. But after visiting, I now realize that when you think Alaska, you can also think pontoon boat, thanks to one dealer who is doing his part to grow this segment of the boating industry in his region. 

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