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AN OPEN LETTER TO THE SNOW WORLD FROM TAILGATE ALASKA

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

http://www.tailgatealaska.com

Are Combinations the Future of Snowboard Progression?

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Announcer, editor, writer and snowboard enthusiast Mark Sullivan recently laid out his theory for the future of snowboarding on Facebook. In an attempt to separate the top level of competitive riding from, well, skiing, something must be done, and we think this theory is so crazy it might just work so we’re reposting it in its entirety.

For years now, I have been a careful observer on the progression of snowboarding, from the time you could see a picture or a video of a trick and go try it that day, until today – where stringing together tricks with 4+ full spins is the ‘state of the art.’ snowboarding for me, both on the mountain (and in business) has been about progression.

So without further adieu, here is ‘Sullivan’s Theory of Combinations’.
(I know, kind of hokey, but, it’s my idea, so why not?)

Shaun White‘s greatest contribution to the sport of snowboarding will not be his back to back gold medals in pipe, his own flavor of gum or the fact that he is the richest snowboarder on the planet (unless you count Jake) – he will be remembered for his frontside 540.

Let me explain.

About a month ago, Ayumu Hirano 平野歩夢 did a frontside 540 to hyper tweaked Japan at the LAAX European Open. He also did a bunch of 1080s etc., but we have seen that thousands of times since 2002, besides 10s are more common than straight airs today in the pipe.

That’s when I realized what Ayumo and Shaun White were doing was essentially the same thing – putting two tricks together into a combination – for White – it was a frontside 540 with a pause in the middle for a Jeff Brushie tweaked out stale fish. Hirano has the frontside 5 to Japan. There are many more out there already – and the possibilities are limitless.

In the past, anytime I saw one of these new tricks – like Shaun White’s 540 or the trick here – I simply said, “wow”, or “sick”, now I realize that all of the new tricks have a common thread – that they are a combination of less complicated tricks and are in fact better (challenging and stylish) than the sum of the parts. Now I call those tricks, the ones I find most impressive, “combos.”

Imagine a backside 5 to method, a frontside 540 to backside 180, a stale fish to switch backside 3 to method… I could go all day.

In every case, it seems, these types of tricks are more in line with the artistic progression of snowboarding, at least more so than the backside 1800 mute.

Here is a simple analogy: I am no expert on billiards – but I know I will take any available straight shot, before attempting anything in combination.

I believe that adding any two (or more) relatively difficult tricks together is a way that not only enhances the difficulty of a trick, but maintains the essential creative elements of style and individualism, are the future of the sport.

If the venue is the canvas, the rider is the paintbrush. I for one would rather look at a Picasso than a plotter chart of perfect circles. Besides the way we ride is what sets snowboarding apart.

Combinations.

So, what do you think?

Tailgate Alaska Tickets Are on Sale

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Valdez, Alaska – October 16, 2015 – Tailgate Alaska is excited to announce announce our 9th Annual Tailgate Alaska World Freeride Festival. This year’s festival will start on April 1 and go until April 10th – giving riders direct access to terrain around Valdez, Alaska, made famous in TGR and Standard films.

According to event founder Mark Sullivan, “Over the past nine years, we have seen the event change lives and educate people on responsible backcountry riding. The event provides the kind of experience once reserved for elite pros: simply, the mountains and conditions do not compare to resorts, or other backcountry experiences in the lower 48, Europe, Asia and South America. Alaska is the pinnacle and Tailgate Alaska makes it affordable, fun and safe for dedicated riders from around the world.”

The Alaska Avalanche Information Center will return to Tailgate Alaska 2016 to give daily snow safety classes, as well as provide a rescue team, making the event the safest way to explore the mountains around Valdez, Alaska. This year’s event will also feature daily events, like the signature Man Games, the Valdez Banked Slalom, campsite contest, dual slalom snowmobile race and more. There is always something happening at Tailgate Alaska.

With each passing year the event has grown and refined, but one thing has remained consistent: virtually every participant has had the best runs of their lives at the event. Sullivan adds, “For some, it is the trip of a lifetime. For the rest, it becomes an annual pilgrimage to ride the best the world has to offer.”

Tickets to the annual event go on sale today, October 16 at noon MST.

For more information, check out www.tailgatealaska.com.

Mark Sullivan and the Legend of the Cage

ei   If you grew up snowboarding on the East Coast in the 90s or even beyond, then surely you’ve heard the legend of the Cage. It certainly shaped my perspective on snowboarding and “what it should be.” Looking back, maybe I should have had better influences. Anyway, thanks to the magic of the Internet, this tale of the cage Mark Sullivan told to Sevenyearswinter popped up in my Facebook feed, and reminded me of the days that were.

You were a big part of another contest that was infamous with integration of dirtbag (drunk) fans with elite (drunk) pros. What story best reflects the renegade nature of the Open in the 90’s? MARK: The most obvious story that comes to mind is the Cage at the 1996 US Open. Prior to that, the US Open was always the best party of the year for snowboarders- in particular the halfpipe final. My goal was to up the ante and do something that embraced the history of the halfpipe party while taking it to the next level, while promoting our publication, Ei. One night, over a couple of cold beers, Pat Bridges and I formulated the idea for The Cage. We wanted to replicate the scene in the movie the Blues Brothers where they were playing a gig behind a chicken wire fence while the crowd shelled them with beer bottles. Only for us, the idea was to keep the beer bottles from hitting the riders. So on our way to the US Open we stopped at the New Hampshire state liquor store and filled the Ei Tour Van with Country Club Malt Liquor tall boys – something like 40 cases. The key to the plan was simple, get up earlier than the staff of Stratton and set up our area on the side of the pipe – I figured by the time they figured out what had just happened, it would be too late. So we got up to the side of the pipe at 6am and started to build the cage which consisted of a couple of rolls of chicken wire and some 2x4s pounded into the deck of the pipe. When the first Stratton employees showed up at 8am, we were done building the cage – one walked up to me and asked, “What do you guys think you are doing?” My unbroken reply was, “We are building a private viewing area for Jake.” Not reading my bluff, the helpful employee offered, “Do you need a table and garbage can?” “Yes.” From that moment, I knew we would pull it off. By the time the finals rolled around, the Cage was totally out of control (to plan) – and it was time for phase 2 – to bust out the mascot uniforms ( I have always subscribed to the idea that multiple contingency plans cannot all be stopped at once). When Pat and I got back with the mascot uniforms on – it all broke loose. It seems people in the cage thought Stratton had sent us as an olive branch to calm the waters. Instead it started the closest thing to a riot a snowboarding event has ever seen. The cage collapsed, empties skittered down the walls of the pipe, bodies spilled out in every direction and the finals got put on hold until some semblance of order was restored. Two years later, I started announcing the Open. To me it is sad that for many, the high water mark of the US Open happened 16 years ago. It was the mark of the beginning of the end, or maybe the end of the beginning, to loosely quote Winston Churchill.

If you’re down with nostalgia and wanna read the whole thing, Mark has stories for days. Check out part 1 and part 2.

Snowboarder Mag Shakeup

In the last four days, major shit has gone down at Snowboarder Magazine. Editor Rob Campbell, Publisher Doug Paladini, Photo Editor George Covalla, and Art Director Jamie Meulhausen have all left the mothership to work with former Snowboarder Editor Steve Hawk on an E commerce site. This leaves Mark Sullivan who is now Editor, and Pat Bridges, who’s moving out to California to be Senior Editor. According to Bridges, the new Snowboarder will be, “EI with a budget,” so watch out.