It’s my first year at Tailgate Alaska, a 10-day winter festival in the parking lot at the top of Thompson Pass. Thompson Pass is the snowiest place in Alaska and the connecting roadway between Valdez and Glenallen along the Richardson Highway. It is surrounded by Alaska’s famous Chugach Mountains, and Tailgate aims to offer safe and affordable access to the massive amount of terrain this place has to offer. The whole experience of living in a tent, RV, snow cave or your car is as rough or as fun as it sounds! People come from all over the world to set up camp and access these mountains via foot, kite, snowmobile, snow cat, helicopter and plane.
I had no expectations. I also wasn’t very prepared for the camping but fortunately fell in with a group of legendary locals from Fairbanks, here for their 4th Tailgate party who built the sickest temporary cabin that you’ve ever seen. I lucked out!
This year has seen a lot of rain bringing plentiful down-days in the run up to Tailgate Alaska. The parking lot saw a few rivers, my clothes got soaked but stoke levels remained high. In addition to all your regular winter camping needs (sleeping mat, down sleeping bag, water-proof everything, paper plates, hot sauce, lots of wet-wipes, hand sanitiser flask, stove, coffee, wood) and you backcountry kit, there are a few must have items you need at Tailgate to survive.
Related article: Living off the grid – One girl’s solo snowmobile adventure to Alaska
10 must have items to survive Tailgate Alaska:
#1 Alaskan XtraTufs or sturdy winter boots
Tough, insulated, sturdy, water-proof, above the ankle boots. Insulated XtraTuf boots are the Alaskan’s footwear of choice, setting you back about $100 (you can buy them at The Prospector in Valdez when up here).
#2 2-Way Radios
There is no cell service at 30 mile unless you are on Verizon (they seem to be the only ones with service on the pass, no Verizon shop in Valdez either so sort before you arrive). You can get WIFI access with your Tailgate Alaska festival ticket, otherwise use your 2-way radio to communicate. These are also a really useful tool when out riding with friends in the backcountry.
#3 Down Booties
The nights get cold and when inside your tent/cabin/RV/car, you are going to want to leave your wet and muddy boots outside. Down booties or a waterproofed pair of UGGs are the way to go.
Related article: What to pack in your snowmobile backcountry pack
#4 Down Skirt
Did I mention it gets cold here? It’s an aggressive fashion statement for guys but an amazing thing to wear for girls. Wrapping yourself in as much down as possible is the best way to stay warm when the temperatures drop.
#5 A Silicone Cup & Beer cosy
In the morning when the coffee gets made, it’s bad form to drink straight from the pot. You will need to find your cup. The paper ones are already gross, the metal ones lose heat and burn your lips on first taste… a silicone cup is the way to go. Hot or cold drinks, bendable for easy packing and unique enough that your mate will feel bad for trying to swipe it off you! At night, it’s damn cold so having a neoprene beer cosy around your beer will save your fingers from getting frost bite.
#6 A sick-ass 4×4 Van with a hammock set-up
If you want to do Tailgate in style and your own kind of luxury, beg, borrow or steal a sick 4×4 van. This Ford E-series van runs off converted vegetable oil, plugs into the generator, has it’s own heater and like its owner Jonny, has been on adventures all across Alaska.
Tailgate is a great time to get a sled or heli bump deep into the mountains, or even a solid crew to ski tour up the glacier. But if you are here to ski or snowboard those mega Chugach couloirs, you’re going to need to climb the very steep pitches. Billy Goats or VERTs attach to your feet, giving you a larger surface area to march that stairway up to the peaks so you can drop into the lines you came for. Worth bringing crampons too.
#8 A Generator
One of the most underrated tools out there, the generator makes it possible to charge electronics and heat up your space to dry gear and stay warm when inside. They’re affordable if you plan ahead, so buy this ahead of time on your way to Valdez.
#9 BBQ or Firepit
It may be cold but everyone still spends most of their time outside here. Whether cooking over an open fire, or just standing around it for warmth, it’s is an important part of the Tailgate experience. It’s the best way to make new friends, or enjoy time spent with old ones, and the only way you’re going to catch some Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights).
#10 If all else fails, bring your own cabin and sauna
This may sound unconventional to some, but it isn’t uncommon to arrive with the supplies to build a temporary structure at Tailgate. That’s right. Some ambitious legends show up with nothing more than a bunch of wood, nails, insulation, and enthusiasm to build a cabin which they will spend up to three weeks in. I was lucky enough to fall into this group, and it’s been amazing!
Tailgate Alaska is at the start of April each year on Thompson Pass in Alaska, just 30 miles up The Richardson Highway from Valdez. Tickets start from $450USD and go up to $3,995 to include heli-drops and all sorts of other fun stuff. A sled bump will cost you $50.
For more info on Tailgate Alaska check out the website tailgatealaska.com
Editor’s note: If you are after travel insurance for your next surfing adventure, Still Stoked recommends World Nomads. Prices are really reasonable and they insure actions sports (including heliskiing!) without charging a mega premium. You can also purchase the insurance after you have left home for your trip and extend the trip online during your trip; something that is quite unique to World Nomads and really helpful if your plans change as you travel.