November 21, 2017 North Pole, Alaska — 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. A lot of things will be the same this year as in the past, but some things will be different. Including new leadership. Mark Sullivan, who created and ran Tailgate Alaska for the past ten years, is handing over the responsibility of sharing Thompson Pass to me, Dustin H. James, to continue the movement that transforms the Alaska scene with each passing 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 fifteen people that first 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 first time recreational riders, of a variety of skills and financial levels, began to come in droves.

The third year was the catalyst. That was the first 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 fives 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 WashingtonState 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 here.

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 fireworks 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 infinite 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 first descents out there may number in the millions.

For the past decade, mainstream progression has been defined by filling 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 define 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.

And if you’re wondering if you’re ready for Alaska, then you’re asking yourself the wrong question. The answer is a resounding yes, unless you hate powder, because there are no groomers. But remember, if you want to have someone hold your hand through the experience, then your best bet is to book a week at a heli lodge. I have the phone numbers, just don’t forget the checkbook. If you want to do Alaska for yourself, then boy do we have a parking lot full of dedicated, like-minded riders waiting for you.

Discover life without limits for yourself, March 30 – April 8, 2018, in the heart of Thompson Pass.


— Dustin H. James

23 replies
  1. You know who we are
    You know who we are says:

    Wow, def not a true story. This is another example of one group of people that have claimed a public user areas to spawn and create a huge problem for more people than they will admit or even recognize. Why is Tailgate Alaska “placed in charge to share Thompson Pass?” That statement alone sounds like your claiming it, keepers of the real, more like take-over and wreck something that was free and beautiful for your own personal gain. Fuck that, fuck Tailgate Alaska!

    • Keepers of the Real
      Keepers of the Real says:

      Before Tailgate Alaska the entire scene consisted of 20 people. Now almost 5000 more have experienced the area. Now what is it exactly that you have done? Complain. Whine. Bitch. One of the things I am over is dealing with kooks who feet entitled to what Tailgate created. Which is why you have no say over any of this – and there are dedicated to the movement. I was like someone is getting really jealous. Poor baby.

      • TheKookWhisperer
        TheKookWhisperer says:

        I’m guessing from this response that you’re the one that wrote this “article”. You might want to think first before you call someone else a kook. First off, Yobeat is the wrong place for you to post this kind of self-serving attempt at a press release. Do you think these readers care about how you’re somehow changing the freeride game? Remember, that was also self-proclaimed. Trying to reach a core audience doesn’t make you core. Maybe try posting in Outdoor Magazine online or Men’s Health where you could persuade people into thinking this is a good deal. From what I understand Tailgate charges you $500 to use the port o potties and wifi for 10 days amongst a crowd of drunken snowmobile bros, aspiring big mountain claimers, and occasional pro (usually in the twilight years of their career). If you’re going for the party I’ve heard you can just camp across the street and still shotgun beers with all the boys in the Tailgate camp. Which brings me to the next point. This “festival” seems to be the antithesis of what freeriding is to a lot of people. Why would you go all the way to Alaska for a unique experience to ride powder with hundreds (I’m assuming) of other people? And if you are trying to say this is the “Burning Man of the north” then it sounds like a rip off plug and play camp, which are the laughing stock of Burning Man. You can try and package this as some sort of charity to lower income riders, but you’re just trying to charge them for something that is otherwise free. This is a business and any self-respecting snowboarder can see that. Take up space on some other sight. This audience doesn’t want to read this shit. Now go crawl back into your igloo and leave these fine people alone.

        • Dustin H James
          Dustin H James says:

          An Open Letter to the Kook Whisperer:

          What you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

          • TheKookWhisperer
            TheKookWhisperer says:

            You really put me in my place on that one. I don’t know how to respond to such a original and well thought out rebuttal. You really are a smart person.

          • el Poopacabra
            el Poopacabra says:

            Yo, I don’t have a dog in this fight – if I wanted to ride AK I’d do it through a guide service (not being poor is nice).

            But the Tailgate Alaska guys come across as self-important dickheads in the article and in their comments.

            “Burning Man of the North”, lol, get fucked ya posers.

      • Anderson Cooper
        Anderson Cooper says:

        Geez Keepers of the Real, that was a very Trumpesque response. I bet you have small hands and hate mexicans.

  2. Mark Sullivan
    Mark Sullivan says:

    Thank you, your comment is a testimony to the amazing work that we have accomplished in creating the scene on Thompson Pass. Just so you know, nobody put us in charge of Thompson pass, in fact before we got there, there wasn’t anybody to be in charge of. Of course trying to explain marketing with somebody who has no clue about how it actually works is a waste of my time. I am very proud of the movement that the family of tailgaters have created – and the fact that every person who frequents the Pass has ties to the event – be it ASG who got their start on the back of Tailgate or even local naysayers like Jeremy Martin whose backcountry crew is composed almost exclusively with people he met at Tailgate. Funny when I posted a video the other day of the trip that inspired Tailgate, everyone who was part of the scene then commented. If you really had integrity, you would put your name out there and stand up for your words- instead of hiding behind the anonymity of your comment. My guess is that you are a jealous person, you wouldn’t be the first (or even hundredth). I can almost hear crockodile tears falling from your cheeks. To be honest, it sounds like you are one of those locals who opposed our permit last year, and still are bitter that our permit got reapproved and with for an unlimited amount of people. Here’s our secret, we have integrity and are bound to do the right things by it- which is how our people earned the name ‘keepers of the real.’ I am guessing that you are one of the kooks who has never been involved with winter sports or sharing what I consider the best mountains in the world. I get that some locals are trying to protect this for their own, but it is 1,000,000,000 acres of terrain, more than enough for everyone who is ever come to tailgate all at once. We have nothing to prove, in fact we’re just gonna keep doing, and prove to the world that this is worth sharing as we have successfully for more than a decade. I guess that is what makes makes us fundamentally different than people like you.

  3. Valdez Local
    Valdez Local says:

    I don’t mind the idea of tailgate, but the real problem is the guys running it.

    Mark- You are a untrustworthy individual.

    Dustin-you made your self look like an idiot starting crap on the Valdez Local Facebook pages.

    A message to all- Anyone can camp for free anywhere on Thompson Pass. Tailgate is charging people for a lie of a product. When you buy a tailgate ticket you are paying for Dustin & Mark’s Cocaine, Booze, & Anchroage Strippers. These mountains are the real deal and getting any advise from these guys is a joke.

    Nobody is jealous Mark, most of the locals just don’t like you and don’t like your event affiliating it self with our hard working small town.

    • Dustin H James
      Dustin H James says:

      Well dude, I mean come on, we have to import our strippers from Anchorage obviously! The ones in Valdez just do all our coke.

      By the way, if this was Reddit I would totally upvote your comment to the top. Epic.

    • Dustin H James
      Dustin H James says:

      And really dude you need to get your shit together as a so called “valdez local”. Your blow used to be good. Now it’s not. The quality/cost ratio is completely skewed against the end user. Which I don’t get because you’re a coastal town and we’re located at 29.5 mile Richardson HWY. Honestly how many people can step on it in 30 miles?

      So here is what we’re gonna do. You’re gonna do a complete logistical autopsy on that shit and in the meantime I’m gonna raise ticket prices enough to allow me to import my bambam from Columbia. No wait, hold that thought. I’m gonna go to Peru. Everyone knows Peru is producing way more high quality blow right now than Columbia – total buyer’s market. Look at that, I just saved ski bums around the world a few bucks.

    • "valdez local"
      "valdez local" says:

      If you are going to directly call someone out (and and make accusations against them), you should stand behind it with your name.

  4. Mark Sullivan
    Mark Sullivan says:

    Thank you ‘Valdez local’ – we couldn’t have made ourselves seem any cooler had we written your comment ourselves.

    FAKE NEWS says:

    Who to believe?!
    Also, for 500$ I could either
    A) Hang out with yakked out bromobilers in alaska
    B) Bend over and take it from vail
    C) Fly out to minnesota to ‘snowboard’ with all those clowns

  6. Snow Magazine Publisher
    Snow Magazine Publisher says:

    This is hilarious. Anybody who has known Mark Sullivan, knows that he has been a vocal opponent of cocaine, well as long as I have known him. Funny that he has told me multiple stories about the drugs and druggies of Valdez and as far as I know has never even tried it.

  7. Jeremy Martin
    Jeremy Martin says:

    I was told to look here from a friend that read this article and comments. I had to check it out myself, WOW Mark Sullivan your an IDIOT!! Why are you slandering me on here and WTF are you even talking about?? You guys are so out there that it’s just a shame really. Don’t worry, I took your last personal attacks against me and decided to ignore them. You remember the ones about how your going to have your crew run me of the mountain and then come up to Copper Center and run me off the river?? Well, that is a threat and also shows exactly the type of behavior that would otherwise be known as unlawful! I would suggest you leave me and my lady out of your problems. You have enough to deal with from what I hear so you don’t need to be starting more in your life. Next time you text my family and talk shit that makes no sense then you need to find me right here where I live and come say your filth to my face. You are nothing but an instigating and irrational person with a dream that only a few want to share with you. Why are you such a Narcissist?

  8. Valdez Local
    Valdez Local says:

    Jeremy speaking the truth again. Mark and Dustin- No one in our town likes you (minus a small group who moved here recently). We have Jeremey’s back way before either of yours. I’d suggest watching your own backs if you’re gonna be making threats to a hard working family man like Jeremy.

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