Flow Tailgate Alaska wraps up with the best year ever
Words: Graham Mueller
Photos: Aaron Gotthardt
What a shitty snow year. The entire American West – south of Glacier, Washington – got skunked. The snow that did fall, deposited in unstable layers that demanded constant vigilance.
Worlds away snow was dumping at alarming rates. Parts of Europe were buried under more than they had seen in decades. In Japan, for example, a bridge in Nagano collapsed under the weight of 10 feet of fluff. Meanwhile, up in that powder peninsula of Alaska, so close to Russia you can see Canada, snow was consistently accumulating and conditions were shaping up for the best spring ever.
Flow Tailgate Alaska started there for a few reasons. Chiefly among them is the mountain access, but not far behind is the snow. Thompson Pass had near-record snowfall this year. You can go up in a heli and still not see the end of perfectly shredable slopes of every aspect and gradient.
One Alaskan, Pryce Brown, was incredulous at the thought that these slopes would ever get tracked out. The runs by the road look like Vail on Christmas Eve, one ridge farther and it all changes. This is Alaska where it just keeps going and keeps snowing. The locals know where the goods are and they know how to get to them better than you. Tailgate brings new people to Thompson Pass every year, but they’re still new and satisfied with the easy access. For the 15-year veteran of Valdez, the mountains still hold secrets. After five years of Tailgate, there’s still room for growth. Take for example Dave Geis’s new heli operation, Alaska Snowboard Guides. This being their inaugural year, they ran for three weeks. Next year they’re looking at two months.
This year Tailgaters were treated with sun from start to finish, with only a few down days in the middle. The warmth might turn the ground to mush at pass level, but up high and on the many glaciers it’s all powder. Dave Geis summed it up well, “Do what you can today, for tomorrow may be gray. That’s pretty much all you need to know about Valdez.” Tailgaters took full advantage. Sleds and choppers ran full tilt on the sunny days and after the first week. Tired legs, broken sleds and empty wallets took their toll. Only the hardcore remained.
The hardcore represented fully in the Flow World Freeride Championships. Bro Bowl held the qualifier where eight men and two women advanced to the finals on Python’s steep shoulder. Brandon Reid and Emily Weer, two unsponsored riders, emerged as the baddest freeriders on the mountain besting a group that featured Scotty Lago, Sammy Leubke and Mike Basich. Along with the winners’ swords, Reed brought home $10,000 cash (in bricks of singles wrapped in hundos for effect) and Weir earned a day of heli time with Alaska Snowboard Guides. After the awards the party got rowdy at the 32° Lounge in the Mountain Sky Hotel. Then it spilled over to The Boardroom for pole dancing, northern lights watching and drunken rumbling. That wasn’t in any way special for the awards night and the 10% rule, that’s just what goes down in Valdez. It’s probably happening right now.
As Tailgate came to an official close base camp returned to its pumpkin form, a snow-ringed quagmire. One heli operator, Alaska Backcountry Adventures, remained, eager to cut deals with the few who clung as if frozen in place. Kevin Jones planned a camping trip to a mountain close yet untouched. “You’re not a snowboarder if you don’t come here,” he said of Valdez. He’s not that stoked on Tailgate and the resultant crowds, but he’s been coming for 17 years. All I can say is make tracks. You probably still have time for the ride of your life.