Tailgate Resolutions for The Last Frontier

The January issue of Backcountry Magazine arrived in my mailbox this week. During my initial flip through to determine which articles would most interest me, I came across an ad for Alyeska Resort in Alaska. The full page ad consisted of a picture of skier Clint Butler riding in fresh pow, presumably at Alyeska resort, with the caption: Alaska, the last frontier. This bothered me somewhat, especially when I read the rest of the copy in the ad: "Package includes four-nights lodging at the Hotel Alyeska plus 3-day lift ticket and breakfast each morning for two." This seemed kinda like riding in the camera car in the Tour de France and claiming to have participated; hardly the last frontier I imagine when I think of Alaska.

img_2219.jpgThis mama grizzly is the real deal. Fortunately for me it is stuffed and displayed in a glass case at the Totem Inn in Valdez.

In spite of my obvious disappointment at what the mainstream considers to be "frontier worthy", the effect that this advertisement had on me was in fact positive: it got me thinking about Tailgate Alaska which I attended for the first time last spring. This event is much more like what, in my estimation, frontier Alaska should be like: living off-grid 30 miles from the nearest city with no discernible sign of civilization anywhere. This is quite different from what Alyeska is offering which includes a spa, Starbucks coffee in your room, and AAA-Four Diamond award-winning mountain-top dining — seems slightly Sarah Palin rugged to me — long on luxury, short on adventure.

Being the more adventurous type, I plan to attend the 2011 edition of Tailgate Alaska in the spring. This being my sophomore year at the event, I'm hoping to be able to learn from last year's experience to make this Tailgate even better. So I've come up with a list of Tailgate Resolutions which I'm sharing with you. Hopefully, in the event you decide to attend, these resolutions will give you a leg up on your preparation:

Tread Lightly

This year I want to take inspiration from Mark Boyle's adventure — as documented in his book: The Moneyless Man: A year of freeconomic living — and be more self-sufficient while I'm in Thompson Pass. For starters, I don't want to have to rely on the propane generator in the RV to charge my camera/laptop and whatever else. This will reduce my footprint by a) not burning as much propane, and b) not needing to drive into Valdez quite so often to refill the propane. Of course, this doesn't mean that I'm going to leave my laptop and camera behind, it just means that I'll have to put a little bit more planning into keeping them charged. A portable solar panel is just the ticket. By April, the daylight hours are pretty long which should provide me with enough solar power to keep my gear going.

img_2342.jpgErik Morrison from Spark R&D let me try some Fuse bindings. I liked them so much that I secured a pair of my own. Now my split setup is nearly equivalent to my solid setup... stoked.

Pack Lightly

When you have to bring everything with you wherever you go, it's essential to bring the minimum amount of things. Last year I bought both a split and a solid board. I thought I was being clever, and packing lightly, by only bringing one set of bindings — this was possible since I was using standard bindings on Voilé plates on my split — however, the extra weight of two boards, on top of the rest of the gear that I needed, proved costly when I had to pay an overweight surcharge at the airport.

Since Tailgate 2010, I landed a pair of Spark R&D Fuse II bindings for my split. This means that it is almost equivalent to my solid setup in weight as well as in ride, so I'll be cutting down on travel weight be bringing only my split board. Besides, having a split board is useful in glacier terrain, even when logging heli time: if you have to traverse anywhere, skinning is way safer than post-holing.

Thread Lightly

The "pack lightly" rule also applies to clothing. I'll admit that last year I brought altogether too many items of clothing to Alaska. The reality is there's no need for shells, only one outerwear setup with proper layering is required. However, be prepared for cold weather; if it's warm, just unzip your jacket.

This also helps keep your gear together. Last year, I wore a shell to the airport and put my down jacket in my carry-on baggage. Unfortunately, my carry-on baggage was lost somewhere between Ottawa and Detroit. Fortunately I managed to recover it (although it was a couple hundred dollars lighter). I'm not taking any chances this year; I'll wear my down jacket everywhere. Incidentally, I also plan to avoid Detroit Metro Airport.

img_2367.jpgEric Themel and Mike Basich are discussing opportunities for seeting up a shot with Mutty while on a photo shoot for Flow Snowboards. This shot was taken right before I rag dolled my ass down the face. I'm still waiting to see the photos.

Smell Lightly

Although base layers, socks, and underwear are not excluded from the "pack lightly" rule, it's important to properly measure the trade off of lightweight vs. pungent stench. Merino wool is a good compromise due to its magical anti-odor properties, and it is also naturally moisture wicking, warm, and fire retardant. For this year, I decided that if a Japanese astronaut can live in space for 30 days with only one pair of merino wool underwear, I can get by in AK for ten days with two.

One thing to keep in mind when choosing which garments to bring, however, is to ensure that they are 100% merino wool, otherwise you'll lose some of the benefits. My Helly Hansen base layers are made of 65% merino wool and 35% polyester and they get stinky a lot faster than my 100% merino wool boxer briefs; tolerable for a couple of days, but not for ten.

At press time, Tailgate Alaska 2011 is still 63 days away, so I must be really excited about going. With my new resolutions in hand, it should be even better than last year which was pretty epic. I highly recommend this event for all those adventurous types who are looking to experience the real Alaska frontier. That's not to say that what Alyeska is offering is not excellent, but to me it seems to lack a certain outdoors element that Tailgate provides. On the other hand, if your not into showering and changing your underwear only once a week, then the Alyeska package might be the safer option. However, you'll probably walk away from Tailgate Alaska with sense that you've actually accomplished something amazing, something that neither AAA dining or Starbucks can provide.

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