What to Expect at the 10-Day Annual Backcountry Festival

Photos: Dave Grigsby

Tailgate Alaska kicks off today for it’s 8th year at Thompson Pass in the Chugach Mountain Range in interior AK. The big mountain, backcountry shred festival is known for being a helluva good time, that’s all about shredding massive lines, while building camaraderie amongst like-minded snowboarders. We reached out to Dave Grigbsy, longtime Tailgate aficionado, to get this inside look as to what to expect at this year’s annual event.

Let’s talk Tailgate. How long have you been involved?  

This is our 8th year holding the event on Thompson Pass which is outside of Valdez in Alaska.  The event has grown from a few folks camping out on the pass to a full village set up with music, bonfire, wifi, porta-johns, food trucks, snow safety classes, and new for this year — the Valdez Banked Slalom.

Tailgate camp

What is the travel like to Thompson Pass?

You can get to Valdez by plane, auto, or boat.  Most attendees now days like to have their own sleds so more and more we see people from the lower 48 or Canada drive a trailer up.  You can also fly right in to town with a short flight over from Anchorage.  If you have the time, the six hour drive from Anchorage to Valdez is beautiful and well worth it to see the land, glaciers, and AK’s wildlife.

Tailgate sleds

What are essentials to have in your kit?

Aside from your normal backcountry gear (beacon, shovel, probe), there are some extra things you will want to have for a trip to AK.  Spare binding parts are important because you don’t have access to a shop like you may be used to. You will also need to have a climbing harness and carabiner.  You ride with those pieces of equipment at all times on the glacier in case you get in trouble and a crevasse rescue is needed on the glacial terrain.

What’s the most important thing to pack?

Rubber insulated boots.

Tailgate AK

What can you expect once you get to Valdez?

Valdez is home to some of the most friendly people you will have a chance to meet.  They live in a very special place and are excited to share it with you.  The town is a 30 minute drive from Tailgate and is a great place to get groceries, take a shower, grab a beer, or get out on a fishing boat during a down day.

Headquarters AK

Lodging: Where do most people stay during Tailgate?

The most popular option for folks is to rent an RV and drive it over from Anchorage and stay on the pass for the event.  There are also hotel options in Valdez and it’s easy to drive up or hitch a ride daily.  Some people work on their campsites all year long and trailer them up for the event. Others have even built snow caves.

What is the most unique aspect of Tailgate?

The snowboarding terrain is what brings people to the event. It’s as challenging as you want it to be but there are also areas for all levels to have fun on the snow and enjoy the powder. The friendships you make with folks there keep people coming back.  When you go through the experience of riding that terrain with like-minded people, you build bonds that will last forever.

Tailgate shred

What do people do during down days?

Tailgate has a full schedule of events for down days.  We host snow safety classes, speakers from the snow/outdoor communities, DJ tent, and the “Man Games” – an Alaskan style competition that all attendees can participate in and test their down day skills like hatchet throwing and sled moving. A lot of drinking will also happen as well to pass the time.

What notable riders will be there?

Many top riders show up every year.  We’ve had Travis Rice, Danny Kass, Kale Stephens, Kevin Jones, Lago, and a ton more as well.  We also get a few film crew show up each year to film on the pass.  Last year the Isenseven crew was there and they had a great time.  Andrew Hardingham is there every year and is always willing to fill your beer up or point you to a line.

Tailgate terrain

Food and libations: What’s the set-up like at camp?

We will have a few food trucks there and options for grilling out as well.  Pam Robinson is our camp mom and keeps the staff and VIP ticket holders fed with amazing food!  Pabst is also on site to point you to a stash of cans if you need ’em too.

What are you most looking forward to with this year’s event?

Tailgate is a family and everyone is excited to get back up there and share the experience with each other in one of the most beautiful places on earth.  When it turns blue, you have the chance to ride lines that you’ve been dreaming about your whole life.  With the less than ideal conditions we have had in the lower 48 this year, we are all ready to get out and scare ourselves a little.

Slednecks tailgate

Advice for those of us looking to make it to Tailgate next year?

Get educated on the terrain and the the snow conditions. Come prepared and be ready to have the time of your life.  It takes a lot of time and effort to get up there, so it’s risky if you are planning a short trip.  Weather systems can stick around for days so you will want to make sure you will be there for when the sun is shining.  Also, plan your on-snow access – call ahead to Black Ops heli, bring your sled, your split board, etc.  You can also kick some one some cash for a sled bump to get you to some of the same terrain that the heli’s can drop.

Anything else?

Tailgate is expanding this year and hosting freeride camps in France and Norway with more on the way soon so look out for those as well.  They are an amazing experience and will prepare you for the AK terrain.

Also, Big thanks to our sponsors for making this event so awesome – The Town of Valdez, Never Summer Snowboards, Great Alaskan Holiday’s, Homeschool Snowboarding, and Black Ops Heli.