Facing Up to a Long, Cold Winter : Alaskan Tanning Parlors Do a Booming Business

United Press International

Across the great north, where the sun never sets in summer and never rises in winter, is a smattering of tanning parlors that promise what the arctic sun cannot: a tan.

When the sun disappeared for the winter--it set Nov. 19 and will not rise again until Jan. 23--business started to pick up at Dorothy's Arctic Hair & Tanning Salon. "Some people come in just to lie down in the tanning bed and feel warm," owner Dorothy Dunbar said.

Most visitors come to get tanned, often just before leaving Alaska on a winter vacation to some place warm, sunny and sandy.

"When you've lived in Barrow for a while, you become as white as a ghost," said Dunbar, who also might have compared her customers to the blindingly white arctic landscape that surrounds Barrow a great part of the year.

Mostly Whites

Most of Barrow's 3,100 residents are Inupiat Eskimos, but enough of the minority white population frequents Dorothy's so that her tanning business "holds its own, especially in the winter."

Business is good in summer, too, Dunbar said. "The warmest temperature is 45 or 50, with a few freak days of 60 to 70. But the sun isn't warm like it is in the Lower 48."

Many Alaskans go to Hawaii or other sunny spots in winter, and some visit tanning parlors before they go.

"Once you lose your color up here, you get burned right away," explained Dunbar, who came to Barrow from Price, Utah, three years ago when her husband got a job with the North Slope Borough government. She has operated the hair salon and tanning parlor for one year.

Bring Bathing Suits

Customers, equally divided between men and women, pay $6 for a 30-minute session or $50 for 10 sessions. Most bring along the bathing suits that Alaskans keep for vacations to warm climates. Dunbar said of her female customers, "They have to have bikini lines"--even 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

Deadhorse, the mostly male Prudhoe Bay oil-field town on the arctic coast 200 miles southeast of Barrow, has tanning parlors. Tanning parlors are also abundant in Alaska's bigger, more southerly "banana-belt" cities where winter lasts only six months.

In Nome, population 3,700, on the Bering Sea coast across from Siberia, Betty Nemec runs a busy tanning parlor above the Board of Trade Saloon, an infamous landmark since Nome's turn-of-the-century gold rush.

"We're supposed to be the Land of the Midnight Sun and we have a tanning salon," said Nemec, who has a dozen customers a day for each of her two tanning beds. They pay $5 for a 30-minute session or $39.95 for 10 sessions.

Pre-Vacation Visits

The Board of Trade Beauty & Tanning Salon attracts people who want to darken their whiteness before flying south to flaunt their bodies on beaches in California, Hawaii and Mexico.

"I have three people who come in just for the heat," Nemec said.

Before closeting herself in her tanning room, Michele Smith, 27, a bartender at Nome's Gold Dust Saloon, held her hand up to her neck and said, "I did get an Alaska tan this summer--hands, face and neck. But it looks funny not having a tan from here down. And you don't get any sunshine in winter."

Interior areas of Alaska can have hot summer days and a modest tan is possible, but many people stay covered up anyhow to protect themselves from swarms of hungry mosquitoes.

Even Some Natives

Nemec said she even gets Alaska natives using her tanning beds, and an Eskimo and an Indian there for hair styling verified the claim. Said one Eskimo woman: "My 21-year-old daughter uses it. She thinks she's too white. She's paler than we are. She just wanted a tan."

Miners' wives, policemen and teachers from the Lower 48 states are her typical tanning-bed customers, said Nemec, who is from Telluride, Colo.

At Dorothy's Arctic Hair & Tanning Salon, where the frozen Arctic Ocean is little more than a snowball's throw away, Dunbar has installed tape players so her tanning customers "can play running water tapes and can feel like they're out on the beach."

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