HOODOO MOUNTAINS, Alaska - Jake Ring destroyed a snowmachine track, skied a little too close to mountain crevasses and jumped out of a helicopter.
All in all, it was a good week.
Ring, an Army captain from Pennsylvania, was one of about 10,000 at last week’s Tesoro Arctic Man Ski and Sno-Go Classic who were there for much more than just a Friday afternoon race.
“I guess some people go to the beaches and they love the warm weather and the sun,” he said on race day, April 9. “You go to the mountains and you can look around see all the beautiful terrain, and it’s only you and your friends and a fun, powerful machine you can rip around in.”
His particular fun, powerful transportation was a Ski Doo Summit 600.
It was his second of the week, after he catwalked over a rock and blew out the track on his original ride. “I’m trying to destroy this one by the end of the year, too,” he said, patting the handlebar.
Ring and friends started the week with a heli-skiing excursion out of Girdwood, then headed to the Hoodoo Mountains — Arctic Man’s home just north of Paxson — for some backcountry skiing and snowmachining.
Chief Warrant Officer Brett Evens was among the group. Having grown up in Petersburg, his current assignment in Honduras keeps him longing for some Alaska-made fun during a brief vacation from the Central American country.
“I was tired of all that sunshine and those palm trees,” said the first-time Arctic Man spectator. “I needed to come here to get my fix. I needed to get in the mountains and play in the snow.”
For people like Ring and Evens, Arctic Man is more than just a chance to watch a crazy race.
It’s a party, a chance to see old friends and a darn good excuse to get the trailer on the road for the first time of the year.
By 9 a.m. Friday morning, the first campfires of the day were going strong in the Mad Max-esque dirt pad off Howie Lane, a gravel road that branches off of Mile 197.5 Richardson Highway.
The gurgling growl of snowmachines, fourwheelers and the occasional minibike puttered intermittently.
Hundreds of trailers and campers occupied of all three tracts cleared for hosting the early April event. Some were your typical summer touring RVs, but others bore unmistakable marks of the event’s faithful — the words “Arctic Man” spray-painted on the side of dozens of bumper stickers advertising companies like Slednecks, Cobra and Polaris.
Lining the lots were 3foot snow berms topped with snowmachines. Well, everything was topped with snowmachines: trailers, campers, the gravel lots; maybe a person or two woke up under a snowmachine, too.
The effects of a long night were apparent on many of the residents of this trailer city as they ambled to Port-O-Lets.
Those who had a full night’s sleep and a morning cup of coffee stuck out like a sore thumb.
Near the main pad, food vendors were selling coffee as quickly as they could pour it. One of the trailerbased snack shacks was charging $2 for a 12-ounce cup and still saw a steady flow of people craving their java fix.
With riders and machines properly fueled, they charged into the bright mountains to watch the race. The sun glared off the pure-white Hoodoos, which were dotted by packs of riders.
Two miles of easygoing terrain from the base camp was the finish line. To reach some of the prime spectating spots, a little more technical skill was required. There are no tickets or reserved seats at Arctic Man; the best view goes to anyone who can get there.
The first gully leading to the starting line served as a proving ground with inexperienced riders struggling, rolling and just plain getting stuck.
The payoff was an opportune vantage point to see most, if not all of the 5 3/4-mile race in which a skier descends two slopes with a 90-miles-per-hour assist from a snowmachine in the middle.
Of course, no view beats conquering the hill yourself, as Fairbanksans Brad Krupa and Nick Possenti can attest. Each has raced twice, and this was their second pairing together.
Despite using the Iron Dog-winning sled from Galena’s Tyler Huntington, the duo had anything but an easy run. Krupa, the skier, struggled to maintain control and found himself airborne more than once.
“I’m just glad we made it to the finish line,,” he said.
When asked how much air he caught, Krupa jokingly estimated “100 feet, plus or minus.”
Maybe he was glad to make it to the bottom, but one dilemma remained: coming to a halt with tired legs “I was thinking, ‘I don’t know how to stop’ whe I reached the finish line,” Krupa said.
Hundreds opted to converge at the finish line, including Evens and Ring, who were taking an easy day after some hard mountain riding.
Blowing out the track on his 800 cc snowmachine didn’t faze Ring, who chalked it up to learning quicker the hard way. Still, there’s bravado he has yet to find. He is amazed by riders who can really “huck it” into the air, including a 16-year-old who was one of the best sledders in their group.
“Sometimes it’s not always experience. It’s a lot about having less brains than other parts,” he said, laughing.
Ring said he’s looking forward to getting back on a snowmachine upon return from Afghanistan, where he’ll be deployed this summer.
“This is my first year riding sleds in the mountains, and I’m hooked,” he said.
All Arctic Man rookies weren’t as inexperienced — or inconspicuous — as the Army buddies.
Former “First Dude” Todd Palin was making his first appearance at the race. Long known for his snowmachining prowess with four Iron Dog wins under his belt, Palin’s initial visit to the Hoodoos was to pull skier Peter Kakes.
“It’s a great event for Alaskans,” he said. Back at the trailer city after the race, the snack shacks were bustling with customers once again as all sorts of vehicles passed by in a manner best described as Alaska ghetto fabulous.
Snowmachines were piled with 10 passengers, including ones surfing each of the front skis. ATVs were popping wheelies with the help of about five people riding the rear bumper.
The coolers were open and the libations were out.
There were drag races and freestyle jumps to watch and plenty of stories to tell from an afternoon of riding.
It looked like like another long night was afoot.
Contact staff writer Joshua Armstrong at 459-7523.