The Alaskan Yurt Built for Dog Mushing
An Alaskan couple wanted a low-budget retreat, and decided a yurt was the perfect fit.
From Alaska to the Adirondacks, yurts are popping up all over Cabin Country these days. Small wonder – these round, tent-like structures are both comfortable and affordable. They also tread lightly on the land, as they’re built atop a platform instead of a foundation.
“I think yurt living is a super option for a weekend cabin,” enthuses Kathy Frederick. She and husband Bill Estelle reside in the historic farmstead outside Anchorage where he grew up. In summer, Kathy grows bumper crops that earn ribbons at the Alaska State Fair. But at this time of year, she pursues her true passion: dog mushing.
In 2015, Kathy purchased three and a half acres in the Caswell Lakes area of Willow, an hour from home. With abundant snow and miles of trails, Willow is a musher’s paradise.
“The plan was to spend weekends at the property training the sled dogs from my Shameless Huskies Kennel,” she explains. The dogs compete in both mid-distance races and the Iditarod. But Kathy’s dreams of building an unplugged log cabin were soon dashed. “Nobody would finance a property that was not on the grid, and bringing in electricity was cost- prohibitive.” Even a small-frame cabin, she learned, would cost around $40,000. Then a neighbor (four-time Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey, no less) recommended a yurt, based on personal experience. (“He has three on his property,” notes Kathy.)
The challenge? Finding one that could withstand Willow’s arctic conditions. Kathy’s research led to Nomad Shelter based in Homer, Alaska. “It is their four- season insulation that sets this yurt company apart from others,” she observes. “I’ve stayed at the yurt when it has been minus 30 and have been very pleased by how quickly the yurt heats up and how warm it stays.”
It took the crew from Craftswood, a Nomad af liate, just two days last No- vember  to build the deck and erect the 16-foot diameter yurt. (“I was happy the deck was four feet off the ground,” says Kathy, “since by the end of the season, the snow we took off the deck was even with the deck in some places!”)
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Craftswood managed to install an insulated oor along with a wood stove before the temperature plunged to 25 below. Within an hour after arriving, the 35-year-old Jotul stove cranks the temperature from subzero into the 70s. Options, such as one-foot taller sides, French doors with cedar trim, and a third window make the yurt feel spacious and welcoming. “At 240 square feet, it’s like an efficiency apartment,” Kathy quips. A generator powers electric lights and a microwave for hot meals. (When there on her own, Kathy prefers battery-operated LED Christmas lights.)
There’s no well, so the couple brings water in gallon jugs along with bottled drinking water. An “Alaskan bush freezer” – a cooler left outside – stores perishables in winter. Kathy found plans for the “Perfect Privy” outhouse online and painted the doghouses to match.
The cost for the yurt, including modifications, was just over $10,000. Kathy paid another $10,000 for the deck, including labor and materials. The contractors returned this past June to finish the deck railings. “For $20,000, I have a cozy retreat in the woods. The views from the door and the windows are wonderful – birch trees in every direction and a lake view from the French door,” she says.
Since their getaway is only five miles from a lodge with fine dining (and 25 miles from Talkeetna, with its array of restaurants), the couple usually eats out once each weekend. Friends drop by for hot cocoa and wine and cheese.
In the warmer months, the deck is used for cookouts and as a base for day hikes. “In summer and fall, the gravel roads are great for mountain biking,“ Kathy says. “In the winter, we’ve got hundreds of miles of trails for dogs, snow machines, and cross- country skiing outside the door.” “And since the yurt is small,“ she adds, “it’s easy to maintain and keep clean. We just love it!