Party at The Pass

The hazards of the parking lot at Tailgate Alaska

Clint Butler partying on Thompson Pass. By Simon Evans

Words: Simon Evans

You always hear the classic Alaska story about days of "nein-shred-kampf"(1, Ludwig) where you wait for the storm to pass, in your wall tent with three other dudes boiling water over a camp stove. Well it appears that over the course of the last five years at Thompson Pass, an "Event" has been fostered that transforms your downtime into a high-octane adventure.

Take the elements from a stadium parking lot before the big show, throw in a few sled-necks, hundreds of riders from multiple disciplines of snow sports, huge mountains with jagged peaks, guns, ammo, axes, and infinite piles of gear, you get "Tailgate Alaska." Locals have mixed feelings.

The emphasis this year was on safety. There was an avalanche center on site, and you were encouraged to look both ways before crossing the highway. With safety in mind the most obvious hazards--stray bullets, passing cars--are easy to avoid. However, further analysis is often required to avoid what is often referred to as a sleeper.  For example, while waiting for the fog to lift, you may be inadvertently creating an altogether different kind of haze that hangs around you and your crew, usually well into the following day. A good way to avoid this terrain trap is to recognize the signals. Like when the band has already packed up and gone home for the night, rather than ordering another round, maybe it's time to head back to camp.

When you finally get out of the parking lot, accessing the mountains near the Pass is achieved by hiking, or with the assistance some type of machine. If you don't mind hitchhiking, road runs are free. Sled bumps are plentiful during Tailgate and can also be an inexpensive way to get on the mountain. But, as we all know, some of the best riding is accessed with a heli. There are several operations near the pass including Alaska Backcountry Adventures (ABA), which is conveniently located next door to the parking lot.

Again, with safety in mind, and to avoid any threat of hang-fire, it is best not to set the redeye standard at the heli-briefing, where it is stressed that actions, such as kicking the pilots' seat every time you board the ship, can get you grounded. In fact, don't even talk to the pilot. The less he knows about what you have been up to during your "ski" vacation the better.

So if the snow has dried up at your resort, and you are prepared for a little epic “aggressive standby"(1,Ludwig), Valdez may be the place to go this April.