Even in a country as diverse and varied as the Unites States, Alaska stands out as unique. Vermont and New Hampshire are definitely different from one another, but they also share a lot in common. You could say the same about Minnesota or Wisconsin, or Washington or Oregon. These places are distinct, but regional similarities bind them together so that even as you’re travelling through them they can kind of blend together. But Alaska is different. It really isn’t like anywhere else in this country. Years of snowboarding videos have conditioned me to see Alaska as this mythical place, accessible to only a few and challenging even when you have a full energy drink budget backing you up. Or at least that’s my perception. It’s one of the few states I’ve never been to.
But that changes this year.
This March I’ll be hopping on a plane and heading up to the last frontier for Tailgate Alaska. If somehow you don’t know what that means, Tailgate Alaska is an annual event based out of Thompson Pass near Valdez, AK. Yobeat has covered it before. A few times. It promises many things, including good times and a great community. But there’s another thing it brings- safety. Avalanches are a real concern any time you step into the backcountry, and they absolutely are a concern in the Chugach Mountains surrounding Thompson Pass. But unlike when you duck a rope at your local hill, or even when you’re on a legit backcountry mission with some friends, there will be a lot of people at Tailgate Alaska. That’s a lot of people monitoring snow conditions, a lot of people keeping an eye on each other, and if the worst does happen it’s a lot of shovels in hands to get someone out fast. That doesn’t eliminate the inherent risk of riding in the backcountry, but it is a comfort nonetheless.
Me. Well, my feet anyway.
I’m Jim. I’ve been around Yobeat for about four years now, mostly behind the scenes. But some OGs might remember me as the whiney shop guy in the “ReTales” columns back in the day. I’m trying to be less whiney now. Brooke’s orders. I live in Brookline, Mass. with my wife and cat. I’m thirty one, a little overweight, and don’t ride as much as I’d like. In other words I am not the chiseled definition of athletic perfection you see riding Alaska in every backcountry movie and edit you’ve ever seen. To make things worse, I’m also decidedly East Coast. I lived in California at one point, but other than that one time mistake I’ve never lived outside of the Eastern time zone. I grew up in Pennsylvania spending a lot of time in the Poconos, and got stuck for a few years in Miami. Even now it’s not like Boston is prime location for stacking up backcountry experience. Almost all of my riding is lift serviced.
But I do have a few advantages on my side. A lifetime outside, and a few big accidents snowboarding and mountain biking, have taught me to control my ego. Don’t just huck it to look cool, know what you’re doing and what you’re capable of. I know how to challenge myself without getting in over my head. I also work from home, in the snow industry. Which means if I need to take an hour to go run laps up and down the hill outside my house, I can do that.
Now I can’t give you the humility my concussions and broken bones have given me, and that’s a big one. And your job may not enjoy the same flexibility mine does to just pause everything and focus on a fitness regimen. But nothing I’m doing is going to be extraordinary. Any “special” knowledge I acquire for this trip will be shared in this column, and most of my gear is stuff I already have. I won’t be using a personal trainer, I won’t be getting free heli rides once I get there. In other words, there’s nothing I’m doing that you can’t do as well.
Which is, more or less, the point of Tailgate Alaska. The partying is what always gets the video coverage, because it’s fun and easy to film. But at it’s core the real reason everyone is there is to experience the Chugach Mountains in ways many participants otherwise couldn’t. That’s why I’m going, and that’s why I’ll be sharing my preparations with you as we lead up to March 30th. I’ll be talking about training for fitness and for safety. I’ll be talking about getting the right gear without spending too much. It will all be real, usable information that can help you prepare to head on an Alaska adventure of your own.
Want to join Jim at Tailgate Alaska this March? Tickets are on sale now!