What do you get when you plow a parking lot in the middle of nowhere, add 15,000 slednecks, and a couple dozen pro skiers, snowboarders and snowmobilers? You get Alaska’s third largest city for a weekend, and the Arctic Man Classic. Arctic Man, traditionally a hardcore sledneck festival, is fast becoming a marquee sporting event with former Olympians among those competing for the $100,000 purse.
The festival, is best compared to the Sturgis motorcylce rally, but on snow. Thousands of patrons converge from all across Alaska, and many make the trek north from the lower forty-eight, to what some call “RV Heaven”. The week-long party, high in the mountains, started 26 years ago, stemming from a $300 bet between two friends; who could get down the mountain faster, a skier or snowmobiler.
The race goes like this; a skier or boarder starts at “The Tit” , a 5800 ft summit on the edge of the Hoo-Doo Mountains and descends 1700 ft in roughly 2 miles on a groomed race course, into a canyon, where they are met by their snowmachine partner. The skier/boarder then grabs the towrope and the pair races back uphill for 2.5 miles at speeds approaching 90 mph. At the top of the second mountain, the pair separate, and the skier/boarder plummets down another 1200 ft to the finish. The entire 5.5 mile coarse is completed in about 4.5 minutes by the top competitors at an average speed over 70 mph.
U.S. Ski Team veteran, and Squaw local, Marco Sullivan, teamed with snowmobiler Tyler Acklestad to take top honors in the men’s ski division for the second time in four years, taking home $26,000. Jayson Hale, a 2006 Olympian in boardercross, and snowmobiler Tyson Johnson took home the winners’ $13,000 in the men’s snowboard division after early leader Nate Holland, who was on a custom 195cm board, wiped out.
“It’s not very technical, the skiing part,” said Sullivan, “It’s just a physical test. Our time was 4:17, and for almost all of that, you’re in your tuck. The burn at the end was worse than any World Cup race. Guys’ legs were giving out from the lactic acid.”
It’s not just about the races though, it’s more about tailgating, Alaska-style. Each spring nearly 15,000 people gather in this remote mountain valley to celebrate the return of the sun and the power of a jacked-up snowmobile. For the week of Arctic Man, this small, unnamed mountain valley becomes Alaska’s third largest city, with Don Young, Alaska’s only congressman, acting as unofficial honorary mayor. The temporary settlement is made up of over 4 miles of row upon row of RVs, and big trucks and trailers plastered with stickers and flying the flag of their snowmobile manufacturer of choice — Polaris, Ski-Doo, Arctic Cat — just like a modern-day motorhead Renaissance Festival.
With the big winners checks, proven skiers and snowboarders are finding their way north. Dan Treadway was there this year, as was Olympic downhiller Erik Fisher. Last year, Olympic ski cross racers Errol Kerr and Dave Duncan lost to recently retired Olympic alpine racer Scott Macartney.
“Better riders are finding out about this,” Hale said. “It’s becoming a more serious competition. People like Nate are changing up their boards, and we actually all wore speed suits, which we swore we’d never do.”