by Katrina DeVore
I had heard stories about Tailgate Alaska. It sounded like a gathering of smelly sledneck snowboarders together in an RV up on some mountain pass in Alaska. So when my friend El [Elena Forchielli] told me that she and a bunch of SheJumps girls—an organization that works to increase female participation in outdoor activities—were going, I was in. Well, tentatively. There were some logistics I would have to figure out first.
Logistics? Who am I kidding? I usually just wing it! Which is what I ended up doing. I bought a one-way ticket to Anchorage, one day before my departure.
Boarding the plane in Denver, I wasn’t sure how I would get from Anchorage to Valdez—nearly a six-hour drive. I was arriving a few days into Tailgate, so all of the SheJumps girls were already on-site and had no idea if I was going to show up or not. I wasn’t worried, though. I knew something would manifest.
Sure enough, there were two homies of mine from Crested Butte on my flight who were driving to Valdez the next day, and were happy to deliver me to the lion’s den. They even shuttled me all over Anchorage, helping me get my skis mounted and my airbag canister filled. Little did I know that this was the beginning of my month-long, smooth flowing dream trip to AK.
Driving towards Valdez, I was in awe. Massive mountains jutting out of the sea and stretching as far as the eye could see. Already, I could feel their magnificent power. As we passed Rendezvous Lodge and began climbing Thompson Pass, the anticipation was building. Under a beautiful alpenglow, we pulled into Tailgate. It was RV’s galore, but it didn’t take us long to find the one belonging to the SheJumps crew: It was decorated with prayer flags, and smudged into the dirt on the back was “She Jumps.”
The SheJumps crew rocks out at Tailgate Alaska
They must have seen us pull up because as I was opening the car door, the RV door swung open and out popped my pal Liz [Cunningham]. In typical girl fashion, I started jumping up and down, might have let out a drawn out “Yaaaay!”, and ran to give her a big hug. Right behind her was my good friend Dayla [Robinson], a fellow Aspenite. I was so excited to finally be in Alaska after years of dreaming of this magical place.
They told me to grab my stuff and stick it wherever it would fit. I was the ninth and final addition to the RV of girls that questionably accommodated as many. There were four beds in the back, a bed fit for two above the driver’s seat, and a fold-down couch also slept two. Then, there was my bed: the kitchen table that was supposed to be able to turn into a bed, but as I would later find out, didn’t really. Nine girls in a single RV seemed to be the talk of Tailgate. In my first twenty minutes of being there, multiple guests stopped by to check in and make sure we were “doing all right.” I unloaded my bags and stuck things where they fit—like my BCA bag and boots in the shower. I tried to keep most things contained in my bag because I could foresee things going missing in this explosion of nine girls’ belongings.
I barely had time to collect myself before another visitor stopped by to recruit us for the bonfire that was happening down at Rendezvous Lodge. Sounded fun, but how were we all going to get there? No problem! A nice Norwegian fellow named Trond offered to drive us all there in his plush camper.
Rendezvous had a pretty cool scene going on. People were hanging out setting off fireworks around the large bonfire outside and a live band from Girdwood was playing inside the bar. After the fire died down, most people migrated inside. We were all hanging out around the pool table when a large bell hanging next to the bar caught my eye. I almost went to ring it when suddenly I had the notion that there were implications to ringing that bell. Sure enough, ringing that bell meant you had to buy the entire bar drinks. The person later in the night who rang the bell unfortunately did not have the same premonition as me. Seconds later, I felt something wet slide across my back. I turned around to a crusty, old, bearded man. I asked, “Did you just lick my back?” He responded, “We hardly ever see that much skin in Alaska!” I guess rather than a handshake, that’s how they welcome girls to AK.
After sleeping uncomfortably on the small bench—because despite my best efforts, I couldn’t get the damn table to lower and turn into a bed—I awoke excited to ski for the first time in AK. It was April 4, and a magnificent bluebird day. Besides all of the excitement, there was stillness in the air. The same kind of surreal feeling that I had two years earlier, to the day, when I was skiing with some friends off the backside of Aspen’s Highland Bowl, where an avalanche took our friend Adam Dennis’ life. This was my first day skiing in Alaska—a place where the mountains are so powerful, and always have the final say. I knew that Adam was there with me on this particular day.
Me and two other girls set out to find some generous boys that might be willing to give us a bump up to the foot of our boot-pack on Python. A couple winks and smiles later, we were side hilling through powder, going up on one ski and holding on for dear life. There was a sled superhighway—i.e. well tracked path—right next to where we were going up, but I think they wanted to show off their sled skills. Little did they know, not only were we not impressed, we were bordering on terrified. They did, however, drop us off safe and sound at the foot of Python.
As we began our ascent, something didn’t feel quite right. We continued on until Dayla said she didn’t feel good about it. Right then, I realized that when I shed a layer back in the RV—to wrap around my camera—I had taken my beacon off and had left it behind. I couldn’t believe it. Without any questions asked, we all turned around and began our descent back down to the RV. None of us were upset because in the end, we would all live to ski another day, and there would be plenty of opportunities in the future. It’s that kind of female energy that I love being around. I find it’s not always common among groups of men, who seem to have a harder time listening to their intuitions. It turned out to be somewhat of a strange day and a reminder of how quickly and easily circumstances can change. We must always respect natural forces far greater than ourselves.
Sure enough, the next day we had the opportunity to safely ski some rad lines. A crew of us skinned up to the promise land, split up into smaller groups and all chose a couloir to boot up. It was another bluebird day and spirits were high. Reaching the top of our line felt so rewarding. I thought of my brother, who had spent time skiing these lines, who was home with two broken legs—the result of a skiing accident. We oftentimes take having a healthy, capable body for granted and look to less worthy pastimes for fulfillment. To be standing on top of that mountain at that moment was an absolute blessing. After exchanging high fives at the top, we one-by-one proceeded to rip the shit out of our lines.
To be standing on top of that mountain at that moment was an absolute blessing. After exchanging high fives at the top, we one-by-one proceeded to rip the shit out of our lines.
Dayla went before me on her split board. It was the steepest line I think either of us had ever skied. She inspired my run by how fluidly and fast she went down. I had an awesome run with a small air and ducked into a little chute at the end, off to the right, where I encountered variable snow. The rest of our crew was waiting at the bottom, cheering. Again, there were high fives all around. The stoke was high.
The rest of Tailgate was a blast. There were activities, laughter, and music shared around the fire at night—in the Alaskan Brewing Company beer garden—where everyone would exchange stories from that day. It turned out Tailgate wasn’t just a bunch of smelly, sledneck snowboarders. Rather, and quite simply, it was a bunch of motivated outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy being out in the mountains. All in all, it was an amazing trip and I think that everyone there was happy to have our spirited energy in the mix. I was so stoked to meet the other SheJumps shredder goddesses, and I can’t wait to go back again next year.
After saying goodbye to the SheJumps girls, I proceeded to meet up with some other friends in Valdez, where it happened to dump for four days straight. We hunkered down in the RV on the first day and then decided that we were going to turn our down days into “up in the sky days.” We set out and skied some mellow lines in the trees and built some jumps right above the ocean. It was the deepest snow that I had ever skied. I was literally submarining. I also tried my first backflips! We also kept busy on those down days by throwing gainers off of the giant fish sculpture in town, and doing some much needed laundry. When the weather cleared up, the winds picked up. That night, our RV was shaking violently. When we woke up in the morning, the wind had blown all of the snow away and scoured the mountains. So much for the epic refresh, but I guess that’s the name of the game in AK. So, we packed up and shipped out to Girdwood.
From Girdwood I got a call from a family friend who was out at the Tordrillo Mountain Lodge. I almost didn’t pick up because it was an unknown number. In hindsight, thank goodness I did. He said, “If you can get to Million Air in Anchorage by 6:00 p.m. tonight, you can get on the helicopter that is headed for the Lodge and come spend a few days heli-skiing.” Done. I would be there.
Love me some face shots in the Tordrillos.
I spent the next few days at the Tordrillo Mountain Lodge heli-skiing with Olympic gold medalist Tommy Moe, Greg Harms, Lel Tone, and Bill Dyer, soaking in the wood fired hot tub, drinking Baha Fogs, polar plunging, snowmobiling around the lake, and eating gourmet food. I was in heaven. Towards the end of my stay, professional K2 skiers Seth Morrison, Sean Pettit, Andy Mahre and Pep Fujas showed up along with Travis Rice and his crew. It was cool to see them behind the scenes of their various filming projects.
Returning to Girdwood, spring had sprung. I knew it was time to get back to Aspen and to my brother who needed my help. It had been a dream trip to Alaska and I was so happy to be living in the flow of life and the seasons. I hope I can return to Alaska year after year to experience its ridiculous grandeur.