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Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Tailgating with A-Rob

Mellow little hopper. No biggie.

These days, snowboarding might be overrun with Olympic conspiracy theories and energy drink-branded helicopters, but since 2008, scores of snowboarders have gathered at the foot of Alaska's Thompson Pass each spring to provide a counterbalance to seven-figure sanctimony. It's called Tailgate Alaska, and from March 25 to April 10, it is the center of snowboarding's big mountain universe.

That's because, in addition to bringing together some of the sport's heaviest backcountry shreds in a temporary village of RVs, makeshift cabins, and converted backseats, Tailgate Alaska plays host to King Of The Hill. The only big mountain snowboard competition in the state, King Of The Hill turns the vaunted Chugach Mountains into a uniquely Alaskan competition venue.

Montana ripper (and last year's 12th place finisher) Aaron Robinson will be there. Known for his segment alongside legend Temple Cummins in the movie "Respect Your Elders," Robinson was recently crowned North Face Masters overall champion for the second year in a row. This year, he's teamed up with his brother Jason and Jackson Hole's Funblock Films crew to make his own movie. Tailgate figures to play a prominent role.

We caught up with A-Rob while he was in Bozeman, Mont. the day before he left for Alaska, and just after he caught record-breaking snowfall on Teton Pass. How's your season been?
Aaron Robinson: I don't know how it works out, but everywhere I go, there's powder. It's been like that the past two years. My best trip this year was with Volcom to B.C. for the Greg Todds Memorial Noboard Race. I also spent a bunch of time in Washington, Tahoe, Jackson and Utah. It's been fun. The west is amazing. Washington is where I fell in love with snowboarding.

Hi. My name's Aaron Robinson. But you can call me A-Rob.

Where does Alaska typically fit in to your program?
I have yet to scratch the surface of the terrain up there or what humans are able to do up there. It's pretty unreal. One of these years, I'm going to do my best to get up there and heli for a month, get out every blue day. It's the only way you can film a good part with AK lines.

Has it been harder to motivate to go to AK with the year the Lower 48 has been having?
Because everywhere I go is powder, I'm pretty confident it's going to be good. But yeah, we were set on it, then the time came to make plans and I made a decision not to go. I mentioned that to Hunter at K2 and they changed my mind. I'm excited to go.

How do you normally access the terrain there? The first year I went [2009], I really wanted to get my snowmobile up there, so I drove. I met up with all these skier dudes from Jackson, and that's where I really learned how to ride my snowmobile. Tailgate was super mellow that year -- literally like 10 people in attendance. Last year we brought snowmobiles up, too -- no heli rides. I bought and sold so many snowmobile rides. This year I'm just bringing my splitboard, so I think I will heli.

"You can put your snowboard on and ride down your living room stairs and can call that snowboarding" -- A-Rob

You took the North Face Masters overall title this year. Was that a goal of yours or just chance and circumstance?
I'm down with setting goals, but I try not to set too many because things will happen the way they happen. Both contests I won, in the morning, I said to myself, well s---, I'm just going to go win right now. It'll be easy. And it worked. Both times. At Crystal, I thought, I'm not winning, I'm not feeling it.

Or ... was it all just training for King of the Hill?
Travis [Rice] isn't going to be there, so even if I did win KOTH, it wouldn't count. Travis is still the king. But KOTH's more mellow than the Masters. I grew up watching old movies and stuff fromm KOTH back in the day, and I definitely wanted to be there. I met Mark [Sullivan] after my first Masters, and he told me about Tailgate, and I thought, AK's back. Let's go. With [Alaska snowboarding pioneer] Nick Perata in charge, I was shocked by how well it went last year.

What is it about KOTH that makes it unlike any other comp?
I hate to say what's real snowboarding and what's not. You can put your snowboard on and ride down your living room stairs and can call that snowboarding, but KOTH is real in terms of being really big mountains. It's Alaska, so that makes everything different. It's a snowmobile ride across a glacier and around massive peaks, so right off the bat, it's different. You're really in the backcountry. Every other freeride contest is inbounds or close to a resort.

The people involved make a big difference, too: everyone at KOTH loves snowboarding; it's their life. The locals there are running it: sled laps, [bringing] snow safety and avalanche guys in. The fact that it's uncontrolled slopes, no bombs -- it's just totally different. It's all its own. The other freeride comps don't really match up.

What are you most looking forward to at Tailgate this year?
Tailgate is definitely what the snowboard world needs. I'm looking forward to a little blue sky so we can do some laps, and getting back into a heli to do some spine lines. But really just the overall Tailgate experience -- kicking it in the parking lot with awesome people.