Tailgate Alaska 2012

Posted by on May 3, 2012 in Blog | 7 comments

A year ago my life was brought into perspective by mountains that are far bigger than anything I had experienced.  Mountains that forever changed my life!  I learned if you take the time to watch and listen, they teach you things you couldn’t have learned anywhere else.   Alaska, the land of the midnight sun is a place where you can find whatever it is you’re seeking.  Whether it be your riding, your life, your beliefs, it’s an open palate to express whatever that may be.

sapphire on Python

I didn’t know what to expect by any means. A typical situation for a first time occasion.  Pretty clueless as to what I needed, and what I would be immersed in.  I had to figure it out quick; it’s not a place where you can make mistakes, or at least a place where mistakes can be managed and dealt with in a typical fashion. Usually they are a learning process, but here they can be deadly.   I was blessed to have a crew that had past experience and were more than willing to share their knowledge.   Granted, last year wasn’t the best year, the snowpack was poor, and our weather window was consumed by mostly milky days with portions of sun.  Although, now that I look back on it,  it was the perfect start to feeling out mountains that need to be feared and respected.  I figured out what I needed for next year to prepare myself mentally and physically.  I took notes as to what I would need to do different to make this years  experience one for the books.


I departed Reno in route for Anchorage on the second of April. Our ultimate destination was Tailgate, AK on Thompson Pass, which kicks ass by the way.  For those who don’t know, Thompson Pass is about a half hour North of Valdez, AK, and Tailgate AK is a World Freeride Festival that attracts the best big-mountain riders from around the globe.  I flew in with a crew from South Lake Tahoe.  My good buddy Justin Befu was the only one I knew, but soon found out the other guys would be friends I could trust and rely on in aspects that will frighten the best of us.   Everything from lodging to the weather seemed to be lining up better than one could imagine.  Super smooth!  We had a 29ft bunkhouse R.V. that drove like a dream into mountains that were littered with an abundance of snow and sunshine.  We pulled in to the parking lot that was packed with R.V’s; I would say about double the number from the previous year.  As we drove through the muddy lot looking for a spot to park our home for the next couple weeks, we stumbled upon our buddy Dave Geis who had just started his own helicopter operation called Alaska Snowboard Guides.  He said “ Follow me boys, we will stick you next to the heli op in VIP at the end of the parking lot.”  VIP it was, end of the lot, Heli pad 100ft away, snowmobile parking out the back, steps away from the shooting range, and no one around besides the guides who worked for him and us.  I could tell this was the start to an amazing trip.


My main focus for this trip was to get photos, shoot some film, meet new friends, and live to ski another day. Oh yeah, and fly around in those magical dragonflies we call helicopters to challenge my riding and further my experience in the bird.  Mission accomplished!   It’s pretty hard not to get all that done when you have two weeks of beautiful blue days and great snow on top of that.  I would have to say, quite a bit different from the year before.


It’s hard to remember each day as it’s own due to the excellence of every moment.  About half way through our trip I was begging for a down day.   My body was tired from continuous hiking, shredding, skeet shooting, mingling, partying, sledding, blowing up propane tanks, Northern lights late at night, and not much sleep to cap it all off.  I mean, I experienced Alaska to the fullest, what ever came my way I agreed to, and things that didn’t come my way, I figured out how to make them happen.

propane tank explosion

The lights are out, the lights are out!

long hike up odyssey

suns out guns out

The only bad thing I experienced throughout the trip was news that my grandmother had passed away from continuous health issues that have been plaguing her for the last year or so.   It was news that brought my moral down.  I was super bummed that I couldn’t be there for her in any way, but I sat down and prayed about it, thought hard as to what she would want me to be doing instead of feeling sad.  I guess she heard my prayer, because moments later an acquaintance that I had met through the trip named Jeff Harper approached me and asked if I wanted to shoot a web edit for Powder magazine out of the helicopter for the day.  A blessing in disguise I would have to say.  I had such a killer day, 6 heli runs that blew my mind.  It wasn’t like most paying customers get out of the heli. We got to rally some 55 degree pitches that were sustained for a good 2,500-3,000 ft with nasty spines, and slough that was piling up a good 3 ft at the bottom of the runs.  Epic skiing!  I am not positive, but our guide D.C. said that one line we did might have never been skied.  We were hunting star belly sneeches on a run we got to name Dr. Seuss.  I mean I couldn’t have asked for a better day, and I totally felt my Grandma’s energy with me the whole day. Finally she got to witness exactly what it is that moves me, and consumes my everyday life.  Skiing!

Interview for Powder Magazine edit

Owner/guide Dave Geis and our guide D.C.

55 degrees sustained for 3,000 ft

Hunting Starbelly Sneeches on Dr. Seuss

As our trip was coming to an end, I looked back at all the great memories I had made, so many of them to remember. One of those bitter -sweet moments!  I didn’t want it to end, but it was time to leave.  Our last night there, ended with a bang.  A party I will remember forever!  A local gal named Lisa Wax invited a crew of people down to her home to enjoy some Valdez hospitality.  She prepared one of the best meals I had ever tasted.  Sorry mom!  We consumed first run salmon that she had caught, King crab legs, prawns, beet salad, courses that I’m not sure what they were, but none- the- less, the most delicious food of all time.  On top of it all, a wood burning sauna to relax and relieve any stress that had built up over the trip.  Great people, good food, awesome skiing, and memories that will last a lifetime!

Lisa Wax and Shininja

Gabe Smith has king crabs

First run Salmon. Melted in your mouth!

Wood burning sauna

The man, the myth, the legend, Rasmus Ostergaard

Farewell friends


  1. Nice write up Benny, see next year!


  1. Tailgate Alaska by Benny Schmitt – Lib Tech - [...] For story and photos visit: bennyschmitt.com/tailgate-alaska-2012/ [...]

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