It’s hard to imagine an event in snowboarding more miraculous than Tailgate Alaska. Located on Thompson Pass just outside of Valdez, this epicenter of big mountain riding plays host to a good ole fashioned parking lot party each spring from March 25-April 10. Except, this time the rowdy crowd aren’t waving flags or wearing home team colors, they’re sporting smiles from ear to ear and hugging complete strangers.
Photo: Peter Mullenbach.
It’s funny how this place makes you do that but after thinking about it a bit it becomes obvious. The people who come to Tailgate are of the same mind; they straight up love riding powder. Imagine your absolute best powder day and then multiply it by ten. Crystal blue skies highlight jagged, powder-covered spines as far as the eye can see. Scared for your life you drop into a fifty degree pitch of bottomless gold sparkling in the sunlight. Choking on snow with every slash you point it out into the open glacier for wide open hand dragging turns. Now imagine returning to base camp and being surrounded by one hundred people who just shared your same experience. Throw in a little Alaskan Amber and some delicious reindeer hot dogs and you can see how hugging strangers is no longer a foreign concept.
Screen Grab: Earl Reynolds.
Since the beginning, we here at K2 Snowboarding have held this event on the highest of pedestals with the understanding that such an occasion was essential in keeping the roots of big mountain snowboarding grounded. This year, complete with a 22ft RV and a powder hungry crew, K2 once again spent Spring Break on top of Alaskan mountains. Each on their own mission, K2 shreds Kyle Miller and North Face Masters champion Aaron Robinson found themselves easily entertained by the magical surroundings. While Kyle was out “working” on getting photos, A-Rob was busy “working” in the legendary King Of The Hill big mountain contest. His two runs consisted of straight lining the entire face of Bro Bowl both switch and regular.
Photo: Jeff Hawe. Rider: Aaron Robinson.
As one of the original tailgaters from 2009, A-Rob has seen Tailgate Alaska transform from a couple snow caves and a yurt to the full on event it became in 2011 hosting hundreds of people from around the world. “Tailgate Alaska is the most important player in re-exploding big mountain riding to the industry’s mainstream. What Mark Sullivan, Nick Perata and crew are doing up at 29.5 mile of Thompson Pass is a bold but fool-proof attempt to bring ‘real’ mountains back to the people,” said A-Rob. “The bumming, the hiking, the snowmachining, the scrapping all year long for two heli days in April… this dream is now more achievable than ever.”
Photo: Jeff Hawe. Rider: Kyle Miller.
The beauty of Tailgate Alaska is that everyone is on his or her own program; it’s a full on vacation with tumbleweed style. The only thing that matters is scoring the best pow turns in your life and watching your buddies do the same.
Screen Grab: Kyle Miller.
To give you an idea, here is a day in the life at Tailgate Alaska, 2011: Note, there is no concept of time up there, we use daylight as the benchmark.
Wake-up when we do and check for sun. If we’re lucky, snowmobile’s and helicopters revving their engines help assure descent light; no matter what, the first step is in the direction of Magpie’s Bakery trailer for coffee and breakfast burritos; lace up our soggy boots and start planning the day; splitboard? Snowmachine? Helicopter? Unless the Alaskan Amber clouded our thoughts the night before this is a good thing to organize before going to sleep.
Keep shredding! Take our last laps under the sunset before our legs fall off; head back to base camp.
Trade in the shell layer for a puffy jacket in the K2 RV and cruise across the parking lot to the Alaskan Amber beer garden for celebratory beers and reindeer hot dogs; high five and hug strangers – it comes natural after a day like today; note to self… plan tomorrow’s attack before the party takes over; pray for sun and rest our eyes, tomorrow may be just as good as today.
Photo: Peter Mullenbach.
Despite minimal snow, which locals referred to as the worst in 30 years, Tailgate Alaska 2011 was still out of this world. Thompson Pass is so vast that even a two-foot storm, which is small by Alaskan standards, can provide blower turns for weeks to come. There is always another peak or a chute with a slightly different aspect that holds the key to unlocking your dreams.
Forget spring Break, Cancun; go scare yourself in Alaska, it’ll change your life. We’ll see you next year on Thompson Pass.