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Tales from Arctic Man

by Katie Johnson

Itís Sunday night around 10:30 pm. Iím lying in bed, almost too exhausted to sleep. All I can hear is the scream of snowmachines and the familiar rumble of idling machines. I can smell the two cycle. There is only one thing wrong with all of this. Iím at home, in MY bed in Anchorage. I am no longer at Arctic Man. Itís all in my head. 

A few days earlier, a bunch of us had hopped in a motor home and headed north 280 miles to Summit. The Summit area, near Paxson, is home to Arctic Man. This is one of Alaska's more popular winter events and has been going on for over 15 years. The core event is a race including a skier/snowboarder and a single person on a snowmachine. 

Skier at the starting line -- Photo by Doug Ogden

The race goes like this: the skier/snowboarder starts at 5,800 ft. (1,768 m.) and then within two miles (3.2 km) drops 1700 ft. (518 m.) into a canyon and meets up with their snowmachine partner. The skier grabs a towrope and the pair continues back uphill for upwards of two miles going anywhere from 70-90 mph (113-145 km/h).

At the top of the second mountain, the pair separates and the skier plummets down another 1200 ft. (366 m.) to the finish line. This race tests not only the skill and endurance of the skier/snowboarder but also snowmachine and driver. The race is grueling. 

Thursday afternoon we left Anchorage, packed to the gills with plenty of grub, liquid refreshment, sleeping bags, and tons of winter gear. Trailering along behind us were two snowmachines, both Polaris, one 500 and a 700. We were ready!

Traffic was a brute, especially with about 200 other motorhomes heading in the same direction. Everyone was hauling machines and going very s l o w l y, so by the time we rolled into Summit it was well after dark. As we rounded the corner, I could see tiny moving specks of light sprinkled all over the mountains. It was the lamps of hundreds of snowmachines racing through the Hoodoo Mountains in the dark. It was an amazing sight. We pulled over to take some moonlight pictures and I could hear the faint rev of snowmachine engines in the distance. 

We checked in and got our map of the event. After finding our spot, we began to set up camp. The girls started dinner and the guys set up camp and unloaded the machines. All I could hear was snowmachines buzzing around and people hooting and hollering. As the night wore on, I noticed that the noise level stayed fairly consistent. I discovered the reason for the noise was that we were a stones throw from the beer tent. If you go to Arctic Man and want to get any sleep at all, stay away from the beer tent!

Parking for the event is on somewhat of a seniority basis. If you once attend Arctic Man, the following year, youíll get a letter in the mail asking if youíre planning to attend again. If so, you fill out the form and mail it back with a check. You might not get the same spot, but youíll have more say than the newer attendees. 

1998 was the first year I went to Arctic Man. I've been four or five times since.  Each year it seems to be bigger then the last.. The parking area has grown; there are more people, more machines and more competition.  And, there is more security and more medics!  The Alaska State Troopers set up camp at the event and patrol diligently.  A word to the wise: just because one is on a snowmachine DOES NOT mean that troopers won't issue a DUI.  Drunks operating a motorized vehicle WILL get in trouble. Donít drink and drive, even if itís just a snowmachine!

Skier at the hookup -- photo by Doug Ogden

The entire parking area belongs to Alyeska Pipeline Service Company. They plow the area every year and allow Arctic Man camping on their property. For that reason there is a list of rules that seems to grow every year along with the amount of people. For example, burning pallets isnít allowed because of the nails inevitably left behind, burning glass isnít allowed, and you clean up your parking area or risk a fine. Makes sense to me.

So what do you get when you add snow, cold, fast snowmachines, and perhaps some alcohol?  A nasty case of snow rash if youíre not careful!  Fortunately, there are medics and warm portable medic shacks set up. If you take a tumble and hurt yourself, they will be there to patch you up again. However, caution is critical, especially when snowmachining in the mountains. Avalanches in the HooDoo Mountains have claimed at least one life almost every year. So be careful: ride with a group, wear a beacon and work on being safe!

Friday morning we got up fairly early (ok, maybe not that early) to watch the race. As we pulled up to the finish line, I noticed that parking was ridiculously tight. Everyone was at the finish line. It made me wonder how many were at the start line, if any. After a while, we start hearing cheering and screaming and the faint whine of a maxed out engine. Sure enough, the first duo was hauling down the hill towards us. 

This is a shot of the crowd waiting at the finish line 
photo by Doug Ogden

After watching a few more of the competitors cross the finishing line, we headed out to do our own thing. I spent the day between racing around on one of the snowmachines and sunbathing on top of the motorhome. The weather couldnít have been better. 

While on the topic of weather, I should mention that not every Arctic Man that Iíve attended has enjoyed bluebird days. The weather was so bad one year that the race was cancelled. That didnít stop the people from coming and racing around the mountains. There just wasnít an official race. 

The weekend passed quickly. Saturday was spent doing much of the same, snowmachining, sun bathing, and walking around between different ďcampsĒ. I saw friends from Delta, Valdez, and several other people from here and there sprinkled all over the main parking lot. I hopped from bonfire to bonfire, nibbling on bbq chicken and other various munchies. 

As I was walking around, I noticed a rather scruffy looking motorhome. It had to be from the 60ís. Naturally, I was intrigued. Over the front seats in the little window up top I saw a sign. I had to get a little closer to read it. I sneakily pretended to be interested in something else while slowly moving closer. As soon as the sign came into view, I had to laugh out loud. It read, ďMULLETS RULEĒ. 

Still laughing, I started to walk on. As I passed the mullet motorhome I saw yet another amusing sight. There was a truck parked on a trailer behind the motorhome. This was no ordinary truck. It had no wheels, but two large tank-lookiní tracks. It was the perfect Arctic Man Ďmobile! I saw the guy out roaring up steep snow berms later that evening.  He and a snowmachiner were taking bets on who could launch the highest over a snow berm.  

Sunday rolled around much too fast and it was time to pack up. The line to get out of the parking area was long so we took our time loading up. Once we cleared the parking lot and got out on the Richardson Highway traffic was not much better. It was one long procession. I felt sorry for the cars that were traveling and had nothing to do with Arctic Man. We were like a herd of elephants!

However, we finally made it into Anchorage late Sunday evening. After collecting all my stuff and stumbling into my house, I peeled all my gear off and fell into bed. I was so happy to be back in my own bed!  Nevertheless, as I drifted off to sleep that night, I couldnít help but think about my weekend at Arctic Man. Plus, it didnít help that I could still hear all the snowmachines in my head! 

The Arctic Man website,, was used as a point of reference for this article.  Photos copyright of Doug Odgen, unless otherwise stated.


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