Thompson Pass Riders Take Safety Precautions Before Hitting the Backcountry
Alaska Snowboard Guides take clients into the Chugach Range
THOMPSON PASS - Thompson Pass is the place to be for extreme skiing and snowboarding. This weekend, hundreds of people are turning out for Tailgate Alaska, the world’s largest backcountry festival.
On a perfect, calm and clear day, staff from Alaska Snowboard Guides (ASG) hopped in the helicopter to take clients into the Chugach Range.
This was ASG’s first year at Tailgate Alaska. “It's an education based festival. We have avalanche safety clinics every day, crevasse rescue courses. Its' really about mentoring people and bringing them into what we consider to be the big mountain culture,” said owner Dave Gies.
Over the course of two weeks the guides will take dozens of clients to the steep peaks of Thompson Pass. They have to go through extensive training to take on any problems that arise.
“The main thing is experience. You have to be comfortable with avalanche conditions, crevasse rescue, cornice control and we're all certified Wilderness First Responders with level three avalanche training,” said heliguide Dave Caruso.
Each guide also carries a backpack equipped with rescue essentials like an avalanche beacon, ropes and duct tape.
At the end of the day, it’s their turn to have a little fun. A helicopter lands on a ridge 7,000 feet up so the boarders can take on the 50-degree slope of East Peak.
“On a scale of 1 to 10, that was an 8. It wasn't an ultimate extreme or what a lot of the professional riders are doing these days but a heliboarding client run, that might have been a little more than we'd be comfortable taking paying clients on,” said Caruso.
When it comes to back country boarding, it’s high risk, high reward. But being risky doesn’t mean being careless.
“It's not worth it to do something dumb because we've had a lot of friends who've died doing this and I think out of respect for them we need to learn from the mistakes they made,” said Caruso.
Live to ride another day is the message on each boarder’s mind as they hit the slopes. They know the best day in the backcountry ends with a safe return to base camp.
Alaska Snowboard Guides will be at Tailgate Alaska through April 12. The owner said the festival is just the beginning of the heliskiing season and anticipates a lot more people will head out during the next month.