Tales from the Tailgate
Here's my definition: Tailgate Alaska is a place where any experienced snowboarder with limited resources but lots of desire can come and ride the best mountains in the world. Period.
Tailgate truly is the pinnacle for snowboarders who seek out satisfaction through progression and the exhilaration felt when flirting with death. Kevin Jones once told me that it should be every true snowboarders dream to come to Valdez and ride the Chugach. And while that dream is certainly more easily realized by legends like Jones, Tailgate Alaska might be the one place where those of us without exorbitant travel budgets can also live the dream, at least for a week or two.
Thanks to the cooperation of heli-ops like ABA and H2O even the most dedicated scumbags -- those of us who consider scrounging quarters from the couch our savings account -- can afford at least a few bumps/runs of a lifetime. With heli-packages ranging from $3625 for five days to $129 for a single run, dirts in every income tax bracket could climb into a ship. Or for a mere $40 Big Mountain Taxi would double you on snow machine to a number of different zones.
If you really wanted to make an adventure out of it, you could do what many a crew did and tow your sled up from the lower 48 and roop around Thompson Pass on your own. Or if you're short on time, you could've just jumped a flight to Anchorage, rented an RV and sleds there and really maxed out that credit card. You're call.
Tailgate Alaska might be the one place where those of us without exorbitant travel budgets can also live the dream.
That's the beauty of Tailgate Alaska. It's all about having options for access, which is something not traditionally associated with the AK experience. So, who's to blame for this game-changing gathering? His name is Mark Sullivan, and if you don't know, he has been in the snowboarding industry so long he's sure to be at serious health risk.
Sullivan's hardly practical, but highly sensiblle. Think inspirational speaker Tony Robbins turned Sith Lord and you start to get a taste of his brand of ambition. (For a taste of his beer just drop by his private tent at Tailgate and toast an Alaskan Amber.) For Sullivan no idea is insurmountable, that is, with a little help from his friends.
Enter Nick Perata. Perata, an early shred pioneer in AK, is the other Chief Inspiration Officer at Tailgate. Call them co-Mayors of Thompson Pass. These two have created a mini city on a desolate mountain pass in the middle of nowhere, which is some kind of achievement, not only logistically, but spiritually (I add the latter because, as anyone whose been to AK will attest, the place is enlightening).
And considering all they've pulled off, what with little more than help from some locals and anyone and everyone who was down for the cause, one has to wonder if greater forces are at work here. The Alaskan Brewing Company sponsorship also probably helped.
It's crazy to think that all this started just three years ago with a cheap Kmart hibachi and a weather-beaten yurt. And now, after seeing first hand the success of this year's Tailgate and the King of the Hill contest, it's easy to agree with Sullivan when he says this is the "best event in the world." Where else will you find the world's gnarliest freeriders huttled up and camping alongside average Joes and good-time Johnnies?
It's crazy to think that all this started just three years ago with a cheap Kmart hibachi and a weather-beaten yurt.
You've probably seen and heard about all the heavies that were on hand so I'll save the name-dropping. And while many of these guys were probably already planning on being up there for their respective film projects -- Standard's The Storming, Brainfarm's Flight and Bluebird's Dobre Hombre's -- I got the sense that there was a lot of anticipation for the return of KOTH. Considered by many to be the world's premier big mountain contest, the return after 10 years was obviously welcome.
While much of the field ripped that face like denim on leather, it became clear quick who was going to win. Travis Rice dominated right out of the gates and Willie McMillon summed it up perfectly when he said, "When they gave him a bib this morning they should have just given him the trophy at the same time and got it over with." On second thought, then we wouldn't have witnessed this.
Now that the circus has dispersed, hangovers have surely been shook and everyone's already counting the days until next year's Tailgate, it's clear that snowboarding needs more events like this. If there was ever an event that is all about giving back, this is it. Now I'm not saying other event's don't give -- the Olympics give you a headache, the X Games will give you Ligyrophobia and the Grenade Games will most certainly give you a night in the tank to think long and hard about what you can't remember -- it's just there isn't an event that gives you the chance to have a truly life changing experience. And make no mistake, Tailgating in the Chugach is a life changing experience.