Exploring Alaska: Riding the Chugach Fat Bike Bash

Apr 8, 2017
by Eddie Clark  
In Alaska there's a common saying that goes, "The odds are good that the goods will be odd'. True to form, snow conditions for fat bike freeriding at the Chugach Fat Bike Bash in Valdez, Alaska would be very odd for its second year, but at least the times were quite good!

Our trip started on a Monday evening with Andrew Taylor (Norco/Addidas) picking up the rental van and then myself, Russ Risdon and Tricia Davis at the airport in Anchorage. After a hearty dinner we headed out into the dark for a white-knuckle six-hour drive over desolate and often times icy mountainous roads to Valdez. Also with us for the trip, but arriving a day earlier were the Canadian contingent of photographer, Robb Thompson, videographer Harrison Mendel and Rocky Mountain Bikes freerider, Noah Brousseau. Levitation 49, the organization chartered to promote Valdez outdoor tourism, and many kind awesome locals would be our hosts for the next week while we created content and had fun at the 2nd annual Chugach Fat Bike Bash.

The first morning in Valdez started with building up bikes, assembling gear and making a plan for the day with Lee Hart who is the Executive Director of Levitation 49. The main event for the Fat Bike Bash was to be a timed run down the Loveland snowfield up near Thompson Pass. With the weather being a big uncertainty, getting up there to get footage was key in case the weather shut us down for when the event was scheduled in the coming days.

Unfortunately, by the time we assembled at the first parking lot, the weather was already working against us with gale force winds in addition to below 0 (F) temperatures. Instead of taking on what seemed to be some considerable risks at the very start, we opted for another location closer to the pass which would provide a little more protection from the wind. Needless to say, by the end of the day, our eyes were wide open with the challenge of what we were there to pull off.

Welcome to Valdez. Photo Robb Thompson
Welcome to Valdez. Photo: Robb Thompson

First morning in Valdez Harrison and Noah check out the sights. Photo Robb Thompson
Harrison and Noah check out the sights. Photo: Robb Thompson

While others decided which zone to ride Andrew Taylor got after it and was the first to drop in to start our week long adventure. Fortunately we had an excellent crew of locals to shuttle us around on their snow machines and they also provided us with very valuable knowledge of the local terrain.

While others decided which zone to ride, Andrew Taylor got after it and was the first to drop in to start our week long adventure. Thankfully, we had an excellent crew of locals to shuttle us around on their snow machines, and they also provided us with very valuable knowledge of the local terrain.

Russ taking his first run to get a feel for the snow up near Thompson Pass.
Russ taking his first run to get a feel for the snow up near Thompson Pass.

Punchy and variable snow made for challenging at best fat biking conditions up near Thompson Pass.
Punchy and variable snow made for challenging-at-best fat biking conditions up near Thompson Pass.

Russ having a look for options to ride down from or just looking at the immensity of the surroundings.
Russ having a look for options to ride down from, or just looking at the immensity of the surroundings.

Russ riding what was most likely a first ever fat bike descent along a ridge near Thompson Pass.
Russ riding what was most likely a first ever fat bike descent along a ridge near Thompson Pass.

On our second day, the winds had picked up even more and were reported to be gusting at 85mph, which easily ruled out returning to Thompson Pass. Ever so thankful for the locals and their snow machines, we headed across the bay to go ride and shoot up near Solomon Lake. The winds were much more manageable, and the day actually turned out to be quite fun.

Just one of many resident bald eagles in Valdez. Photo Robb Thompson
Just one of the many resident bald eagles in Valdez. Photo: Robb Thompson

Despite the winds wreaking havoc on the snow Andrew still found some soft patches to get loose in.
Despite the winds wreaking havoc on the snow, Andrew still found some soft patches to get loose in.

Wind blown wind crusted snow was the key to ridable lines. Photo Robb Thompson
Wind blown, wind crusted snow was the key to ridable lines. Photo: Robb Thompson

Photo Robb Thompson
Photo: Robb Thompson

Andrew and Noah descend a section of access road down to Solomon Lake. The lake serves as a source of water even in the winter for the Solomon hydro-electric plant further downstream.
Andrew and Noah descend a section of access road down to Solomon Lake. The lake serves as a source of water, even in the winter, for the Solomon hydro-electric plant farther downstream.

That backdrop... Photo Robb Thompson
That backdrop... Photo: Robb Thompson

Photo Robb Thompson
Photo: Robb Thompson

Tools of the trade. Photo Robb Thompson
Ready to explore the "arctic". Photo: Robb Thompson

Russ and Simon having a dueling wheelie competition while freeriding on the frozen Solomon Lake. Gale force winds with below zero F temperatures had us seeking somewhat wind sheltered areas to ride on our second day as the propect of returning to Thompson Pass became borderline unsafe due to the extreme wind chill.
Russ and Simon having a dueling wheelie competition while freeriding on the frozen Solomon Lake. Gale force winds with below zero (F) temperatures had us seeking somewhat wind sheltered areas to ride on our second day as the prospect of returning to Thompson Pass became borderline unsafe due to the extreme wind chill.

Shuttling Valdez style. Photo Robb Thompson
Shuttling Valdez style. Photo: Robb Thompson

Photo Robb Thompson
Photo: Robb Thompson

Photo Robb Thompson
Photo: Robb Thompson

Noah Brousseau catching some air between wind gusts in area 51 near the zone known as Benzene Alley.
Noah Brousseau catching some air between wind gusts in area 51 near the zone known as Benzene Alley.

Photo Robb Thompson
Photo: Robb Thompson

Photo Robb Thompson
Photo: Robb Thompson

Simon Bosman descending with Port Valdez in the background. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline crosses Alaska from north to south where it transports crude oil from northern oil fields to Valdez at its southern terminus before oil tankers then take the crude oil to destinations around the world.
Simon Bosman descending with Port Valdez in the background. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline crosses Alaska from north to south where it transports crude oil from northern oil fields to Valdez at its southern terminus before oil tankers then take the crude oil to destinations around the world.

Riding out from Area 51 on an access road kept packed by snow machines as the sun gets low and the temperature drops.
Simon Bosman, Russ and Lee Hart riding out from Area 51 on an access road kept packed by snow machines as the sun gets low and the temperature drops.

Valdez is a fisherman s paradise in the summer months but come winter many of the local boats are dry-docked near the marina.
Valdez is a fisherman's paradise in the summer months, but come winter many of the local boats are dry-docked near the marina.

The Easy Freeze fish processors were froze out for the winter.
The Easy Freeze fish processors froze out for the winter.

Chief Wasatch. Photo Robb Thompson
Chief Wasatch. Photo: Robb Thompson

Noah Brusseau and Andrew Taylor cruise around the harbor at sunset. Photo Robb Thompson
Noah Brusseau and Andrew Taylor cruise along the harbor at sunset. Photo: Robb Thompson

Photo Robb Thompson
Photo: Robb Thompson

Chugach Fat Bike Bash 2017
By Friday, fat bikers were descending upon Valdez for the Fat Bike Bash, and everyone was up for a good time on a Friday night.

Hearty racers and fun seekers line up to brave the cold for a fat bike night crit on the cold empty streets of Valdez.
Fat bikers and fun seekers line up to brave the cold for a fat bike night crit on the frozen empty streets of Valdez.

Racers did two laps down main street and through the marina with most of the route being on ice or packed snow.
Racers did two laps down main street and through the marina, with most of the route being on ice or packed snow.

Fire dancers in streets. Pretty much everything started and finished at the Fat Mermaid which served as the headquarters for the Fat Bike Bash.
Fire dancers in streets. Pretty much everything started and finished at the Fat Mermaid, which served as the headquarters for the Fat Bike Bash.

In house bartender DJ kept the beats bumping into the wee hours at the Fat Mermaid.
In-house bartender/DJ kept the beats bumping into the wee hours at the Fat Mermaid.

At the Fat Mermaid your glass is always half full.
At the Fat Mermaid, your glass is always half full.

The Chugach Fat Bike Bash has one of the few dance parties where Sorel snow boots are the fashionable footwear attire.

When the bar bell gets wrung the shots get poured and they don t mess around about it. It was a common occurrence as the evenings grew long.
When the bar bell gets rung, the shots get poured, and they don't mess around about it. It was a common occurrence as the evenings grew long.

More shots
More shots!

Later in the evening at the Fat Mermaid after the fat bike riding was done and shots were had the ladies challenged each other in arm wrestling.
Later in the evening at the Fat Mermaid, after the fat bike riding was done and shots were had, the ladies challenged each other in arm wrestling.

We heard the north is famed for spectacular Northern Lights so we drove up to Thomposn Pass one night to find out for ourselves. Photo Robb Thompson
We heard the north is famed for spectacular Northern Lights so we drove up to Thompson Pass one night to find out for ourselves. Photo: Robb Thompson

Chugach Fat Bike Bash 2017
Saturday morning was another bluebird day, and a great day for more fat bike fun.

When the skies are blue it s hard to not enjoy getting out the fat bikes in Valdez.
When the weather is nice it's hard to not enjoy getting out the fat bikes in Valdez.

Fat Bikers competing in a fun-style barrel double elimination race.
Fat Bikers competing in a fun-style barrel double elimination race.

Chugach Fat Bike Bash 2017

Racing to see who can go the slowest during the slow race.
Racing to see who can go the slowest during the slow race.

Whitney Betts having too much fun during the rodeo events.
Whitney Betts having too much fun during the rodeo events.

Corner on the Meals downhill race Valdez down below. Photo Robb Thompson
Corner on the Meals downhill race, Valdez down below. Photo: Robb Thompson

Photo Robb Thompson
Photo: Robb Thompson

Mass start to the Meals downhill race. Photo Robb Thompson
Mass start to the Meals downhill race. Photo: Robb Thompson

Noah Brousseau in red leads out the pack in the Meals DH mass start race but it was the local Alaskan Kevin Murphy in blue who took the win.
Noah Brousseau (in red) leads out the pack in the Meals DH mass start race.

Noah Brousseau takes to the air at the start of the Meals downhill race while eventual winner Kevin Murphy took the low line.
Noah takes to the air at the start of the Meals downhill race while eventual winner, Kevin Murphy in blue took the low line.

Noah with some style on the hip. Photo Robb Thompson
Noah with some style on the hip. Photo: Robb Thompson

Kevin Murphy was way ahead of the pack on the Meals downhill race. Photo Robb Thompson
Kevin Murphy was way ahead of the pack on the Meals downhill. Photo: Robb Thompson

When the snow is supportive or wind hammered fat bike freeride opportunities are available all over and around Valdez.
When the snow is supportive, or wind hammered, fat bike freeride opportunities are available all over and around Valdez.

Andrew looks on as Noah tests out a jump. Photo Robb Thompson
Andrew looks on as Noah tests out a jump. Photo: Robb Thompson

Teal Rogers came down from Fairbanks to put on an aerial dance performance.
Teal Rogers came down from Fairbanks to put on an aerial dance performance.

You know Teal is a true Alaskan as she was hearty enough to perform barefoot in single digit temperatures.
You know Teal is a true Alaskan as she was hearty enough to perform barefoot in single digit temperatures.

A fine golden sunset closed out the last day of the Chugach Fat Bike Bash.
A fine golden sunset closed out the last day of the Chugach Fat Bike Bash.

Gorgeous sunset over the Valdez Harbour. Photo Robb Thompson
Gorgeous sunset over the Valdez Harbour. Photo: Robb Thompson

There was no shortage of gorgeous alpine glow to be found in Valdez. Photo Robb Thompson
There was no shortage of gorgeous alpine glow to be found in Valdez. Photo: Robb Thompson

Exploring the Valdeze iceburgs by fatbike. Huge iceburgs which have broken off from the base of the Valdez glacier and then Photo Robb Thompson
Exploring the icebergs on Valdez Glacier Lake by fatbike. Photo: Robb Thompson

Photo Robb Thompson
Andrew Taylor takes the high line over the ice cave. Photo: Robb Thompson

Into the mouth of the ice cave. Photo Robb Thompson
Into the mouth of the ice cave. Photo: Robb Thompson

Frozen tidal pools on the Port Valdez. Photo Robb Thompson
Frozen tidal pools on the Port Valdez. Photo: Robb Thompson

Some of the crew explorring the Valdez inlet. Photo Robb Thompson
Noah Brousseau, Andrew Taylor, Tricia Davis and Simon Bosman exploring the Valdez inlet. Photo: Robb Thompson

With miles upon miles of coastline to explore from Valdez every new mile seemed to yield even greater scenic views.
On our final day in Valdez, we had free time to spend riding in places we'd looked at earlier in the week, which was pretty sweet. With miles upon miles of coastline to explore from Valdez, every new mile seemed to yield even greater scenic views.

The Dock Point Trail Head provided for some fun fat bike free riding opportunities right from town on our last morning in Valdez.
The Dock Point Trailhead offered up some fun fat bike freeriding opportunities right from town.

Russ heads out on the Mineral Creek nordic trail just outside of Valdez.
Russ heads out on the Mineral Creek nordic trail just outside of Valdez.

Coastal touring at low tide was a great way to take advantage of the fat bikes for finding some jaw dropping views along the Valdez Arm of the Prince William Sound.
Coastal touring at low tide was a great way to take advantage of the fat bikes for finding some jaw dropping views along the Valdez Arm of the Prince William Sound, and an awesome way to end a fun trip.



MENTIONS: @RkyMtnSrfr @robb



19 Comments

  • 24 0
 Just took it up this winter, it's a riot! There's actually a few similarities to riding dirt. At times you are drifting in loose snow corners, or pointing straight down a steep icy pitch letting the wheels roll and praying that you don't skid. Ignore the haters, it's another way to ride. (This festival looks like a blast too!)
  • 8 0
 Great shots, looks like a ton of fun. I look at these photo epics and I think. . . damn I am boring.
  • 20 17
 Who would go to Valdez for fatbiking? Makes for great pictures though. A place with that much snow is a skiers dream. Looks like you would have had a lot more fun with skis under you than trying to force it with a tool that was never meant to be used in deep snow
  • 22 4
 Haters gonna hate.
  • 4 1
 Not that much fresh snow by the looks of things though, and you'd need to earn your turns or have some cash to cover the helicopter!
  • 2 0
 Not sure I would travel from the lower 48 to go fat biking there, but if I still lived in AK I probably would. Looks awesome to me!
  • 1 0
 @Altron: or just use your sled
  • 4 0
 That ice cave shot is great
  • 3 0
 Looks like a fun time, and those snowmobiles look like they're straight out of a Tron movie.
  • 4 1
 ...when you're buying your biking clothes in a snowboard shop...
  • 2 0
 Will 100% be doing this next winter, though I found out this winter that the fat bike doesn't really like doing tables.
  • 3 0
 I live in Anchorage, now I want a fat bike... go figure
  • 1 0
 Wow!!!!!! what an experience. Great pictures I always dramed of riding in Tibet and Alaska looks as great. Congratulations Cheers
  • 2 0
 I want to run the shuttle sled.
  • 2 0
 hell yeah russ!
  • 2 0
 Great shots Eddie!
  • 1 0
 Makes me want to go ride a fat bike in Valdez.
  • 1 0
 need avy gear
  • 1 0
 We had avy gear and local guides.

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