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 ThompsonHarrison 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. 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.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 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 the many resident bald eagles in Valdez. Photo: Robb ThompsonDespite 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 ThompsonPhoto: Robb ThompsonAndrew 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 ThompsonPhoto: Robb ThompsonReady to explore the "arctic". Photo: Robb ThompsonRuss 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 ThompsonPhoto: Robb ThompsonPhoto: Robb ThompsonNoah Brousseau catching some air between wind gusts in area 51 near the zone known as Benzene Alley.Photo: Robb ThompsonPhoto: Robb ThompsonSimon 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, 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.The Easy Freeze fish processors froze out for the winter.Chief Wasatch. Photo: Robb ThompsonNoah Brusseau and Andrew Taylor cruise along the harbor at sunset. Photo: Robb ThompsonPhoto: Robb ThompsonBy Friday, fat bikers were descending upon Valdez for the Fat Bike Bash, and everyone was up for a good time on a Friday night.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.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.At the Fat Mermaid, your glass is always half full.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!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 Thompson Pass one night to find out for ourselves. Photo: Robb ThompsonSaturday morning was another bluebird day, and a great day for more fat bike fun.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.Racing to see who can go the slowest during the slow race.Whitney Betts having too much fun during the rodeo events.Corner on the Meals downhill race, Valdez down below. Photo: Robb ThompsonPhoto: Robb ThompsonMass start to the Meals downhill race. Photo: Robb ThompsonNoah Brousseau (in red) leads out the pack in the Meals DH mass start race.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 ThompsonKevin Murphy was way ahead of the pack on the Meals downhill. Photo: Robb ThompsonWhen 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 ThompsonTeal 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.A fine golden sunset closed out the last day of the Chugach Fat Bike Bash.Gorgeous sunset over the Valdez Harbour. Photo: Robb ThompsonThere was no shortage of gorgeous alpine glow to be found in Valdez. Photo: Robb ThompsonExploring the icebergs on Valdez Glacier Lake by fatbike. Photo: Robb ThompsonAndrew Taylor takes the high line over the ice cave. Photo: Robb ThompsonInto the mouth of the ice cave. Photo: Robb ThompsonFrozen tidal pools on the Port Valdez. Photo: Robb ThompsonNoah Brousseau, Andrew Taylor, Tricia Davis and Simon Bosman exploring the Valdez inlet. Photo: Robb ThompsonOn 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 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.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.