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Monday, April 4, 2011
Updated: April 5, 12:08 PM ET
Worth its wait in Alaskan gold

Oh, that? That's just another roadside attraction, Alaskasized.

There's a reason they call Alaska the things that they do: The Last Frontier; Land of the Midnight Sun; Beyond Your Dreams, Within Your Reach ...

All the clichés are true. Alaska is vast, isolated and expensive. It's one of the few places in the U.S. where you can drive 50 miles on a state highway and never see another vehicle. It's a place where the weather can change faster than you can say Deadliest Catch and the time of day is measured not by hours of daylight but ounces of beer.

Looker's left of the infamous Bro Bowl, aka sketchiest entry of the day.

But when you come to Alaska to snowboard, none of that matters. When (and if) you actually do get to strap in, the hours upon hours upon hours of waiting for a weather window become a fleeting memory and give way to a sense of fulfillment, enjoyment and paralysis-by-fear rarely found in other sectors of life.

At Tailgate Alaska (Thompson Pass, March 25-April 10), the name of the game is to gain the access and education necessary to watch your own back, but there are also a couple hundred people on hand who are happy to help you do just that. With avalanche awareness, glacier travel and crevasse rescue classes, along with a fleet of snowmobiles, snowcats and helicopters -- plus more terrain than you can access in a lifetime -- you have the power to take your shred, and your life, into your own hands.

Tailgate is also home to the World Freeriding Championships, a big mountain ski and snowboard contest that this year -- after blue skies failed to make an appearance for the 20th anniversary of the World Extreme Skiing Championships -- is combined into one event with King of the Hill. After a mostly snowless March, April's skies have clouded over, and the Alaska Avalanche Information Center staff says Wednesday could be the day that the comp is called on.

Biceps flare on the sled highway.

On Sunday, more snowboard competitors arrived (Mike Basich, Aaron Robinson and Rob Kingwill all rolled in, joining the likes of Iris Lazzareschi, Hana Beaman and Callan Chythlook-Sifsof), and a few disappointed skiers rolled out. After the last official day in the waiting period for the ski contest was called off around noon, I joined a few kids from Fairbanks and Salt Lake for a sneak peak at the competition venue: a three-mile sled ride in, 1,000 vertical feet for the contest lines, and another 3,000 to get back to the parking lot.

While this is a calendar event, it's still Alaska, and there is no such thing as "plans." But when the getting's as good as it was yesterday, there is a whole lot of patience. And so we wait.