Arctic Man’s 29th ski/snowmachine race scheduled for April 11
With the passing of the 2014 Winter Olympics, exciting snow sports are fresh in everyone’s mind. Visiting Sochi, Russia, for the games would’ve been awesome, but Alaskans are fortunate to have numerous winter competitions that are every bit as entertaining right here at home.
One such event is Arctic Man. Another of Alaska’s iconic races, Arctic Man differs from Iditarod and Iron Dog as the only known race of its kind that pairs downhill skiers and snowboarders with a snowmachiner. Teams focus heavily on coordination while enduring unheard-of speed and uphill racing that you won’t find in an average ski race. To fully understand you have to see it for yourself, this April 11, in the Hoodoo Mountains north of Paxson.
“If you’re a racer it’s an adrenaline rush,” says race founder Howard Thies. “If you’re a spectator it’s one of the most profound races in the world. There’s nothing like it.”
The skier or snowboarder will take a plunge from a 5,800-foot peak known as the Tit, drop 1,700 feet at incredible velocity, and navigate a creek. Eventually they’ll appear in an open valley where hundreds of spectators gather to watch the most important phase of the race. There, the snowmachiner tries to match speed with the skier, allowing he or she to take hold of a tow rope, similar to a water-skiing rope, to be hauled off at high speed, uphill. It’s tricky, and failed attempts are common—yard sales, too. With luck, the team is in sync and they’ll rip off without much time lost, catching a little air before disappearing into another creek, the 2.25-mile uphill portion.
If the snowmachiner has the skill to ride hard and fast despite the tugging on the rear, and only if the athlete in tow can stay on course and handle the excessive speeds of up to 90 mph, they’ll be contenders for the championship.
Cresting another mountain top, the skier is released in somewhat of a slingshot effect for their second downhill run toward the finish line to complete the total 5.5-mile course. As Thies said, there’s nothing like it, and the surrounding countryside and mountaintop viewing is, in itself, spectacular.
And would you expect to see an adaptive division? Probably not, but Arctic Man introduced adaptive racing in 2013, making the competition more amazing than ever.
Incredibly, injuries are rare, the most common being a blow to the racer’s pride when skiers like three-time Arctic Man champ and current Olympian Marco Sullivan deflate everyone’s ego with a record run. His time to beat is 3 minutes 52.72 seconds with an average speed of 79.2 mph. He’ll be back for the 2014 race to defend his title and take the winnings.
As skill levels and equipment improve, to include the advancement of snowmachine technology, Arctic Man races seem to get better each year.
“Last year we broke 3 minutes and 53 seconds. Think about that.” Thies says. “Five and one-half miles in 3 minutes and 52 seconds on a pair of skis being pulled by a snowmachine. It’s insane.”
True, the race and thousands of spectators riding through the mountains on snowmachines seems a little reckless, but Arctic Man has remained a festive gathering that anyone can enjoy with most everyone being courteous and typically Alaska-friendly.
“We’re insane and crazy, but the whole intent of this event is to be safe and pay attention,” says Thies. “You can come and have a good time and not be an idiot. We’re trying to make this a family event and want people to come and enjoy themselves and have a good time.”
As always he warns of the risk of drinking and driving—or riding—and
with Alaska State Troopers on the premises to maintain safety, reckless behavior will not be tolerated.
Arctic Man does include a bar tent for unwinding and gathering with friends. The tent also accommodates fun games, competitions, even live entertainment and the awards ceremony.
Centrally located in the Arctic Man compound, the bar tent is surrounded by roughly 11,000 RVs and vehicles, trailers, snow toys, and the nearly 15,000 people that know how to throw a party. This iconic event draws a mob of colorful characters from around the globe, complete with costumes and elaborate campsites. Travel Channel’s Adam Richman even visited last year to document the entertaining crowd for his TV series, Fandemonium.
Join all the fun between April 7 and 13, with the races held on the 11th. If you had a parking spot last year, whether you know your number or not, Thies says spots are secure until March 1. After that, the many folks on the waiting list get their shot at a coveted campsite and you’ll have to make another reservation. Campsites are $130 and up depending on how early you reserve.
Visit the Arctic Man website for an updated race roster, camp registration information and event schedule, www.arcticman.com. Thies requests that people refrain from emailing and call if they have reservation questions, (907) 456-2626.