What Is Tailgate Alaska?
It's sleeping in your van. It's hibernating in a snow cave until the sun comes out. It's fresh coffee from Magpie's makeshift bakery on top of the pass. It's Cajun blackened cod tacos from the Fat Cat's RV restaurant. It's standing by bum barrel fires in anticipation of the northern lights. It's glacier ice in your cocktail. It's a row of port-a-potties and an even bigger one of sleds. It's a whir of helicopter blades, popping two strokes and grumbling truck traffic on top of Thompson Pass. It's riding until nine at night. It's mid-April, when winter is deep and daylight is long, where one big parking lot campout is happening way out in Alaska. See it for yourself in this Tailgate AK In Short video.
TGAK is an awe-inspiring jump-off point for snowboarding in "The Last Frontier." Endless white mountain tops scratch at the sky in every direction. Glacial gouging slits the valley floor, carving massive chutes and shelves into a vast sea of snow-covered rock. In the cradle of all of this sits the TGAK staging ground, a temporary community of snow seekers, resting at the mouth of hip laden lips and gullies, massive glaciers, cliffs, spines, bowls and wide-open faces as far as you can see.
People have stormed in from all over to get here--Norway, NZ, Australia, France, Utah, Canada and beyond. Some by ferry, others by flight or a long haul road trip. A few forged their way by thumb. Aaron Robinson's mom Pam made the trek. She came to see where her son radiated and spread his ashes into a forever winter. This beautifully hostile landscape is a place to celebrate, with a massiveness that's equally and humbly feared.
On top of the RV, sled and tent-packed Thompson Pass, in the heart of all of this, there's a pool of riders, all looking to do the same thing as you--shred. Banding together makes it more doable and the TGAK crew adds beer, Internet, bathrooms, food, music, games, fires, backcountry safety classes and one big freeride contest. It's easy to link up with crews and it seems there's enough terrain to go around. Dipping out on your own adventure sled, cat or heli venture is only a credit card swipe away.
Sledding seems to be the preferred means, but it's aggressive. Big Mountain Taxi or locals can haul you around and you can pay per bump. Rent one or haul yours for you best bet. An RV is the go-to housing situation; most people rent them in Anchorage. A tent or snow cave on the pass is for the hardy, but it's not that bad, and there are plenty of cheap hotels in Valdez if you need a break. Once here, things slow down, they follow the weather and fall into place. Even though Alaska is a distant place, when this event is rolling along it doesn't seem so far away.
Tailgate Alaska runs from April 1-12 at Thompson Pass, Alaska. For more info check out tailgatealaska.com
Stay tuned for more photos, videos, and a full recap from this year's event and the World Freeride Championships.