Spring brings with it the granddaddy of all riding events
Finally – it has become clear that we are experiencing a banner year for snow sports in Alaska. Mother Nature was a bit late to the party, but as usual, she has made up for it in both snow levels and, separate from the rantings of Al Gore, a colder season than the past few years. Although earlier this season, I was convinced that this year was abnormally cold in some respects, we are getting back to what used to be a normal temperature year – El Niño, La Niña, La Cucaracha … something along that line, I am not really sure. What I do know is that to this point, we have escaped the monsoon season that has trended for the last couple of years. Not having to explain to relatives in Buffalo why it is 40 degrees warmer here than on their stoop is a bonus. A secondary plus to the Arctic temperatures (remember I am writing this in early February) is that none of my real-life bosses will be coming up to “visit” during the holidays. Including Christmas and New Year, and excluding a new friend’s wife, it will be a run of possibly six months before I see anyone from Texas. Those of you who were originally from Texas and are at this moment taking offense, remember why you are here instead of there.
Another part of this time of year in Alaska is the beginning for some folks of winding down snowmobile activities for the season. Although it is a bit depressing to see all the “early out” folks deciding that they have had enough, many of us are just getting started with serious seat time. Iron Dog, Trek Over the Top, Tired Iron racing, spring riding in every nook and cranny of the state are things now getting the attention of those of us who love the smell of two-stroke oil in the morning. Or evening. Or night.
Another bonus for me is to contact an enthusiast that I have had the pleasure of meeting lots of years ago. Unless I am in Fairbanks and run into him out in public, I see Howard Thies once a year, usually for 15 minutes a day for about 10 days straight. Most of you know who Howard is, and have this same relationship with him I do. Howard is the founder and organizer of The Arctic Man Classic, held at Summit Lake each year. Some of the best snow, most sunshine and generally great temperatures make this event the premier spring festival in possibly the world for snowmobilers.
As some of you know, my wife and I purchased a small lodge in the Susitna Valley that is a destination for snowmobilers, mushers, skiers as well as fat-tired bikers. Our lodge hosts a couple of the smaller events and it never ceases to amaze me how much work is involved in support and organization for 20 dog teams, or 25 120cc class future-Cory Davis clones or 40 fat-tired bikers and skiers staging out of our place.
Every time I have the reoccurring nightmare of having 15,000 Kevin and Cindy clones in my back yard, with millions of dollars’ worth of motorhomes, a hundred bonfires, hot tubs, helicopters, air boats, and whatever I have forgotten, I am amazed at Howard’s ability to organize and host this event with as few issues as he has. Just in our compound, there will be a dozen snowmachines, bonfires, duck fart events, bloody mary spectaculars, turkey frying, fireworks (outside the grounds, I swear, Howard) Tiki torches, and other likely unmentionable events. Multiply that times 400-plus camp compounds, and it is painfully obvious why Howard gets about eight hours of sleep all week. Weather compounds the event and as usual, Howard and his team work around Mother Nature.
He has done this for many years, and it is always the best way to put an exclamation mark on our normal season. The safety improvements that have been made over the years have allowed this to become more of an event that everybody can participate in and find something that they can enjoy for a week.
Heck, it is even possible that you can see a snowmobile/skier race together for 4-6 minutes at a time with the most contention being what color of helmet to use. In addition to some of the best snowmobilers in the state, remember that many of these skiers are really, really good. I don’t know that you can get enough people up on the Tit to throw me down that initial slope, and they do it voluntarily!
So, remember to thank the volunteers that are working the event. They are the sleep-deprived folks walking around keeping everyone safe and providing the venue to let us all blow off a little steam. If you are wandering around, the ASSA/EagleQuest Lodge compound will be in our normal place in space 196-200. Look for the Tiki torches and stairs cut into the snowbank. I will be the big guy sleeping in the camp chair in front of the fire. And I swear Howard, the fireworks weren’t us.