ARRIVING AT THE PARKING LOT on Thompson Pass felt like reaching the light at the end of a very long tunnel — after all, five days on the ALCAN Highway from Revelstoke is no small feat. Yancy and I pulled in late night in a sideways blizzard to the mountain pass we would call home for the next three weeks. We decided to come a week early to feel out the snow and lay some fresh tracks before the tailgating madness began. Emerging from the camper the next morning, I kept an eye on my brother’s face as his eyeballs widened, seeing snow-caked mountains rising 4,000 vertical feet straight from the parking lot. “H-o-l-y Shiiit,” he exclaimed.
Tailgate Alaska is held at the base of the Worthington Glacier, the closest possible parking to world-renowned powder turns. By means of touring gear, snowmobile, and helicopter, people of all walks of life migrate to Valdez, AK each spring to rip some classic Alaskan terrain on either side of the Richardson State Highway. Tailgate Alaska, now in it’s fifth year, has grown to almost 500 people from a small diehard crew of five guys dreaming big and not afraid to share the wealth. Weathering all conditions, meeting new people, enjoying the scenery/beer, learning about snow safety, and of course, getting into big lines, is what Tailgate is about.
With 3 heli operations within 15 miles, getting on the schedule for an unforgettable day is easy. For the more cost-efficient scenario, bring your snowmobile and you will not be disappointed with how many long pow laps you will log, sometimes when the heli can’t even fly.
Yancy and I met up with many good friends who’d made the pilgrimage to AK, and the good times started flowing, as did the free Alaskan Amber beer. You know you’re in the right place at the right time when seasoned big mountain riders tell you at the nightly bonfire that they just rode the best spine or chute run of their entire life. Powder is usually plentiful, but beware of waking to boiler plate backside turns the next morning — the wind can howl across the Chugach! Even with 500 people, though, the Alaskan terrain is so vast and abundant that the thought of it getting tracked out is not a concern.
After five days of bluebird powder, another storm rolled in to hit the reset button just in time for the “King of the Hill” Freeride World Championship event, put on by Tailgate Alaska. Low and behold, I picked a technical line to ride that had sheltered powder inside a nook on Python Peak, rode it clean, and took home the championship title and samurai sword. I was stoked that my peers voted my line as the winning run, as it always feels good to come out victorious knowing your fellow riders approved.
Our crew awoke each morning not knowing what the winter wonderland of the Chugach Mountains would bring. But as all good things must come to an end, the Tailgate lot dispersed in a flurry as another heavy storm socked in…and another legendary Alaskan event was about to unfold a short 160 miles to the north. The energy of Arctic Man was calling, and good friend Nate Holland promised powder in the Hoodoo Mountains.
Words and photos by Wyatt Caldwell; video by Yancy Caldwell.