Tailgate Alaska Day 8 - Return of the King

The King of the Hill is a contest that was started by Nick Perata in the 90s. Although the last one was held ten years ago, it seems like the time is ripe for the return of the big mountain snowboarding contests as is evidenced by the growing popularity of the North Face Masters series. Tailgate Alaska seems like the perfect event to bring back one of the original big mountain snowboarding contests: the King of the Hill. With the backing of big name sponsors such as The North Face, Recco, and Flow Snowboards this will be the first, of hopefully many, King of the Hill events in the years to come.

The cirque at Bro Bowl on a bluebird day.
The playing field. A big slide over some serious exposure has already been triggered.

Throughout my first week on Thompson Pass, I've had many people ask me if I was going to enter the King of the Hill competition. I had considered it, however, two things were holding me back: 1) the $500 entry fee, and 2) the fact that Bro Bowl (the playing field for the contest) was rated at a considerable avalanche danger – which means that human triggered avalanches are probable – and I didn't feel confident that I could pull it off without getting Chugached. Although it would be fun to throw down with the likes of Mike Basich, Shaun Farmer, Travis Rice, Rob Kingwill, Mark Landvik, and other legends of the sport, I decided to be a sorry Sally and not throw my hat in the mix. I did stick around, however, to make myself available for some of the preperation, and to try and document the contest as best as I could.

The fist item on the agenda was to hand out the competition bibs. This is a much more complex activity than one would expect; it's difficult to get 40 or so snowboarders to show up on Thompson Pass at eight o'clock in the morning to pick up a contest bib. Especially when you consider that, in general, life doesn't really start in Alaska until 10AM. This needed to be done in good time though so that all the competitors could be shuttled up to Bro Bowl for the start of the contest.

Nick Perata giving a safety briefing at the foot of Bro Bowl.
Nick Perata giving the Safety briefing near Bro Bowl. Mark Sullivan, Gabe Smith, Shaun Farmer, and other competitors are paying close attention.

Big Mountain Taxi was on hand to provide the shuttle service for the riders, media, and spectators. The snowmobile ride up alone was worth the price of admission (which was free, but that's not a comment on the quality of service from BMT). Once everyone was shuttled up, it was time for the safety briefing. Nick Perata started things off by saying that he didn't want to see anyone get hurt out there because he'd feel terrible if that happened during his contest. However, he did say that there certainly was a high level of danger involved and that it was important that riders not bite off more than they can chew (as the saying goes) during their runs. Bro Bowl had not been ridden on in quite some time and had not been avy controlled, so there was a definite danger of the slope letting go and taking someone for a ride.

With the safety briefing out of the way, Big Mountain Taxi and other volunteers started shuttling the competitors up to the starting points at the top of Bro Bowl. There were three starting areas demarkated by Recco flags. The riders would call out their starting points so the judges down below would be able to see the run.

Many locals, and Tailgate Alaska attendies also participated in the King of the Hill. However, the big guns is who most people were there to see: Travis Rice, Mike Basich, Shawn Farmer, Mark Landvik, and Scotty Lago. Travis Rice was in good form, on his first run, he pulled a monster backside 7 off a windlip over some pretty major exposure (so he had to be sure of his landing), then did a front 3 over the next wind lip then dropped some pretty gnarly cliffs. He was only the sixth rider down, but I had a pretty good feeling that he was going to take the King of the Hill sword.

Travis Rice charging a windlip on Bro Bowl.
Travis Rice is charging for that windlip on the right of the frame.

Shaun Farmer, on his 45th birthday, was also in fine form. He tried, and almost landed, a backflip off the same windlip that Travis Rice sent it from. Had he landed it, he certainly would have given T-Rice a run for his money.

Rob Kingwill was also not messing around. He billy goated himself into a gnarly 3-step cliff line. Perata asked over the P.A. system for Rob to wave if he could here him; he waved. Then Perata asked him to wave if he was stuck, he didn't wave. It took a while, but he finally dropped into the triple step to a roaring cheer from the on-lookers.

Gabe Smith also put down a gnarly line on his second run. Dropping a 30-foot cliff band at the start then raging to drop another one down below. There was definitely no messing around at this contest. People were stoked on it and this was only the first part. In the next part, the riders would be dropping from the shoulder of Bro Bowl into Skatepark which finishes in a natural halfpipe, a major leg burner. I rode down to the finish line see the riders arrive, and not surprisingly the riders were exhausted when they arrived at the finish. Mark Landvik un-latched his binders and just dropped to the ground as he crossed the line.

The return of the King of the Hill was a great success. The skies were bluebird, ensuring that everyone was stoked, the riders weren't holding back, ensuring a good show, and the terrain was gnarly, keeping the riders on their toes. The only disappointment I had was that I didn't participate. Although I had no illusions of winning, it would have been fun to bro down with the rest of the contestants. After seeing how it played out, I'm sure I could have at least not made a fool out of myself. As the saying goes, it's not the things you do that you regret, but rather the things you don't do. In any case, I'm really looking forward to finding out the results on Sunday. Anyone want to bet that T-Rice wins it?

Winter Matters Bubble

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