I spent the summer of 2012 in Alaska working for the Denali Gift Company. My time there marked a summer I will never forget.
My experience was phenomenal! I lived and worked with approximately twenty other young adults, nearly all of which I consider close friends and keep in contact with. During that summer, we would work hard and play a little harder.
While working our shift (either mornings or nights), we were expected to cashier, stock merchandise, ‘face’ the store, and assist customers with inquires (i.e. meal suggestions). We would work between 6 and 8 hours a day, usually five days a week. I found that the majority of the customers were very pleasant, just glad to be on vacation in such a beautiful place.
Kevin Helwig, owner, owns three stores on the strip right outside Denali National Park which make up the “Denali Gift Company”. Each of the stores vends much of the same merchandise, but varies depending on its strategic location along the strip. The man knows his stuff; there is no doubt about that.
In the town of Healy (where we lived), the cost of groceries is noticeably increased compared to, well, anywhere in the lower 48. However, the cost of living at camp (which includes a cabin with electricity and a full fridge, access to four bathrooms, a full kitchen as well as being surrounded with beautiful scenery) is only $3 a day. Also, employees would often organize and make trips to the city of Fairbanks (about 2 hours away) for groceries or luxuries which cost about what you would pay anywhere else in the U.S.
Most folks head up to seasonal jobs for the experience. I was also looking to be able to save money for graduate school. I lived frugally during my time there, and managed to bring home more than I have ever made any other summer. It wasn’t difficult; I still went out to eat and even went to the bar once in a while with my friends and managed to come out ahead.
The company really does care about their employees. From the complimentary pizza party nights to the high-quality toilet paper, management did their best to ensure morale was high and we were happy with our decision to come up and work.
It is important to me to address one more thing: Stu Hayes, manager, is the best supervisor I have ever worked for. He does his best to really get to know his employees, and strives to ensure their experience is as magnificent and memorable as his own summers were when he began working here. He is full of life, easy to talk to, and understands that respect gets respect. Additionally, he is simply a great person. I would find myself going the extra mile for him simply because I would never want to disappoint such a man.
All in all, I had a fantastic summer working for the Denali Gift Company. It was a wonderful way to have an adventure, make friends, make some money, and live some life. Hands down, the best summer I’ve ever had.
-Luke A. Burcham,
D.G.C. Employee 2012
Here is what I think, what I like and dislike about Alaska, Denali park and working in the area :)
First of all I would have to say that it is not easy and it requires some time to think of anything at all that could be considered as disadvantage. My experience as working and living in Denali for season 2012 was more than satisfying. If anybody plans on taking this adventure I would not recommend having any certain expectations or vision of what it might be or what might happen during those few months. Alaska, including Denali park area, is an amazing place and I give my thumbs up for anybody willing to escape from the concrete jungle, from the 5 to 9 everyday life or just to anybody seeking the adventure of his life. Of course one should know and be prepared for what he is about to do and where he is about to be. I do consider Denali to be a place close to Heaven but definitely far away from most of the conveniences that a big city can provide you....especially considering the food. If you want to prepare your meals yourself save a day once every other week for a trip to the closest big city - Fairbanks, which is 2.5 h drive north, make sure you have enough money because the high prices on pretty much everything are probably the biggest issue in Alaska. It is a beautiful drive though and there are plenty of things to be explored and visited in Fairbanks. If you are lazy to cook there is always a certain choice of restaurants and a few fast food places but not enough to keep your interest (and savings) throughout the whole summer. Otherwise I could say that there is good food in the area I worked and lived in.
Another very important point for the majority of youths who come to Denali are parties. Few bars were taking care of this, and I can definitely say they did a good job. Also you can always go to the park for a hike or camping, you just have to remember that you are not in a zoo and accidents do happen. Denali park incl Mt McKinley is a place everybody should visit if you want to feel close to Heaven. There are also different tourist guided tours and activities (lower prices for employees), rafting, flight-seeing, helicopters, biking any many many other thing to do on your days off. Another thing you can do if you have a few more days is hitch-hiking and then all you have to do is pick any of the amazing destinations Alaska offers you.
When I first applied for job in a gift shop it sounded to me like a great fun, and I was right. Meeting different people every day with all their different needs and requests. There are plenty of different tasks to be completed during day that keep you busy and not bored. As I am always seeking for something new and different I decided to learn how to make fudge and this is probably one of the best decisions I made throughout the summer. I enjoyed making and selling fudge to all the customers that entered the shop. I do believe that you can have a lot of fun and in the same time being responsible to what you're doing while working. It was not hard work or anything that could make you feel exhausted, sad or bad at all. What I want to say is if you're completing your duties the way you should everybody will be happy and there will be no issues concerning the job and the working process. All the managers are good people who, as everybody else, want to have easy and profitable summer. Nobody will be given impossible tasks or being treated bad, everybody is free to speak on any matter. So if anybody asks me weather I liked working for Denali Gift Co and if I plan on going back....the answer would be Yes, with no hesitation.
What is more Denali Gift Co's employees have the best housing that I know of. About 12 miles away from the shops,in Healy, there is a piece of land on Lester road where about 15 cabins are built for the employees. Each cabin is well furnished with two beds (or one big bed for couples) full-size fridge and shelves, most of which made by people working for the company previous years. There is a big main cabin with well equipped kitchen, computer, huge flat screen TV with Netflix and Xbox. This is the place to spend time with your new friend, make your dinner, or just relax. As I said it is a common area and the main issue with that is that not everybody is used to clean after himself and sometimes it gets messy which is a bit annoying but as every problem I am sure that this one has its solution. In walking distance there are grocery shops, gas stations, liquor store, post office, bars and also a few nice spots to have bonfire.
One thing is for sure....I am going to miss a lot Alaska and all the people I met there!!!
I could say a lot more but I think that is enough for now. Feel free to contact me if you wish to ask more questions.
What does the summer in Denali Park look like and being more precisely working for Denali Gift Co.?
The answer is really simple! The summer you would like to repeat over and over again!
First of all, I don’t think anybody can pass over lightly the fact that you are in Alaska, surrounded by enormous mountain and picturesque landscapes, changing their colors every two weeks, with bears, mosses, caribous and loads of small animals wandering and strolling casually.
The work itself is not tiring at all. Time goes by so fast in chatting with your friends and costumers from all over the world.
It might sound weird but I was feeling guilty being paid for having fun? But that was the way I was feeling during my two seasons working for Denali Gift Co.
One of the best part is the people you are going to live with and over the season get along with. Not every Tom, Dick and Hurry are brave enough to spend a summer in Alaska. That’s why people, getting up there have a very easy-going attitude to life. Which is awesome! During days off all of you guys are going to gathering together and going places, camping, having bonfires and doing all sorts of stuff. That was the way we have been spending our time.
One of the reason everything to be so smooth and easy is not only because everybody is there to enjoy himself but also because the managers (Stu and Angie) who are making their best to satisfied every request. The schedule is pretty flexible and all thanks to Angie who is in charge of it. On the other hand Stu is doing his best to give everybody a task which suits best, making everyone feels important and valuable for the company and for the teamwork.
You might ask yourself “Where am I going to stay at?”. I loved our small “Shantytown” where we lived. Cozy little houses scattered in the wood. Don’t worry! You have everything you need – bed, fridge, shelves. The kitchen is common which allows you to spend more time with your friends. Or if you want to be a little bit noise and have a party the rec-room is the place.
It could happen not to have a roommate but in my personal opinion is better to have one because is a great chance to get even closer to people you live with.
If you are keen on having a different summer, away from home, surrounded by one of the most breath-stopping landscape in the world you found the place. My two seasons left remarkable experience in my life that I will never forget. The only thing I wish is to get another chance to spend time in Denali Park, Alaska.
My summer in Denali 2013 was honestly one of the best summers of my life. The friends I made and the experiences I had were more than satisfactory. Rafting and hiking took up a huge chunk of my physical activities including, obviously, working in the gift shops as well. This was my first time working in a retail environment such as this, so I didn't know a whole lot of what to expect, but I made the most of it. To most people, working in a gift shop, folding clothes, and dealing with customers isn't the best gig, and I felt that way at times too. I can say that for the most part, each shift at the shops was pretty routine, and not too many challenges along the way. Of course there were certain instances that weren't the best, but I enjoyed my co-workers company, and the feeling of working in Alaska, so it made up for it. In camp, I fully appreciated the cheap rent and the decent sized cabins to live in, but sometimes the kitchen and chore lists got ignored, and thus, other people had to suffer, myself included. The people I met were amazing, not only who I worked with, but also at bars, other shops, and throughout Healy and Denali. I can safely say I would return to Alaska, and I am very grateful for the friends I met and the time I had.