On March 30, the 11th annual Tailgate Alaska will commence in the heart of Thompson Pass, Alaska, where snowboarders and skiers from around the world gather in Alaska’s dreamworld of snow and peaks.
Nectar had the chane to sponsor the event this past year!
People have been calling Tailgate Alaska the “Burning Man of the North” for years, but of
course we are an event about snowboarding and skiing and our focus is different than Burning
Man’s. Although we do embrace the creativity, expression, camaraderie, brotherhood, and
life changing experiences that a unique environment, such as Burning Man, or Tailgate Alaska,
provides. At Tailgate Alaska the art is in you—the snowboarder, the skier—and these mountains
are your canvas.
After 10 years, Tailgate Alaska sure has made its mark. Not only on those mountains, but on the
day to day lives of those who have ridden here.
Tailgate started in 2008, after Sullivan sold Snowboard Magazine. The event was small, only
fi fteen people that fi rst year. There were a few recreational riders, but most of the attendees
were professional athletes. This is where the power lied in those days—with the heli guides,
sponsored athletes, and uber rich who were feasting on the bounty of the Chugach each
year. Then Tailgate Alaska happened, among technological developments for access, and,
for the fi rst time recreational riders, of a variety of skills and fi nancial levels, began to come in
The third year was the catalyst. That was the fi rst year of the contest. It was 2010. Tailgate
brought back King of the Hill, an epic freeride event from the 90s. Some really big names
decided to show up for it. Travis Rice, Mike Basich, Scotty Lago, Mark Landvik, and Shawn
Farmer. But it wasn’t Travis Rice’s winning run, where he stomped a gigantic 720 off a natural
windlip above exposure, that would change Thompson Pass forever. For Travis, this was another
trophy and couple hundred high fi ves to add to his collection. It wasn’t even Mark
Landvik’s arm wrestling victory over Shawn Farmer for 6th place that would change
Thompson Pass. Nope. It was Nico Demetrio, a chubby Chilean who now lives in Washington
State who also competed. For Nico, this was a transformative moment on open
display. Not only was he riding in Alaska, he was doing it alongside Travis Rice,
riding off the very same peak. For Nico, that moment captured the awe and
wonder of living. Because anyone who loves riding can experience snowboarding, and
perhaps life itself, at its absolute zenith.
Along with the groundbreaking riding we have also witnessed a rise in creativity, the likes of
which no one could have foreseen. The Gypsy Crew, with their pop-up cabins, have become
the true artists on Thompson Pass. Their door is always open to the fellow snow traveler. One
year they created a 20 person sauna in a snow cave. The Eagle’s Nest was a highlight of 2016,
a remote basecamp atop Demolition Hill that served as a happy hour stop-in where you could
gaze out across the entire corridor of Thompson Pass, lighting off fi reworks over the tailgate
party. And who could forget Camp One Love, a crew of locals that did it all across the street.
The craziest parties, the best snow caves, and the most technical terrain parks were the mark
left by One Love.
While the apres scene has been an undeniable good time, the real excitement has been the
mountains and unlimited powder. Exploration has taken on a whole new meaning. Riding in
Thompson Pass used to be all about the road corridor, not anymore. People from around the
world are learning to lead their own glacial explorations, and they’re doing it by foot, skin,
sled, plane and helicopter.
Over the past ten years, snowmobiles have undergone a radical transformation in their
design, allowing the average skier and snowboarder to reach locations once reserved
only for helicopters. And then there’s Zack with Tok Air Service, a homegrown Alaskan bush
pilot who parks his plane at Tailgate giving affordable access to glaciers overhead. Zack has
created a spectacular way for splitboarders and skinners to access the infi nite terrain that
spans hundreds of square miles.
What does all this boil down to? There are more access options available to the regular person
than ever before. We are just beginning to peel back the layers of the Chugach mountains
and what they can offer for the recreational snowboarder and skier. Indeed, available fi rst
descents out there may number in the millions.
For the past decade, mainstream progression has been defi ned by fi lling the tops of
podiums with taurine infused athletes, adding one 180 after another, and publishing stories about
professionals on dream trips that most people will never come to experience. As these
riders continue to push the limits of what is possible on snow, the regular rider has faced more
and more disconnection from their sources of inspiration. Meanwhile, at Tailgate Alaska,
regular recreational snowboarders and skiers defi ne progression in a way that is personal and
can continue for decades after graduating from resorts to the backcountry.
So, what’s gonna happen over the next ten years in Thompson Pass? I couldn’t tell you
because it’s not up to me to decide. I’m just here to be a sherpa—making it easier for you
to have the same experiences that Jeremy Jones or Sage Cattabriga-Alosa have become
famous for. The ultimate goal of Tailgate Alaska is not to be an event where the regular person
comes to hang around the professionals. The goal is to have an event where the professionals
come to get back in touch with the soul of our sport. John Jackson gets it.