by Jackie Bartz
April 9, 2010
It's a haven for recreational vehicles and one raucous party, but those who come to the Arctic Man Ski & Sno-Go Classic leave with once-in-a-lifetime memories -- even if they are a little hazy.
For 51 weeks of the year, it's a quiet valley near Paxson, Alaska -- but in early April, you'd never know you were in the middle of nowhere.
Arctic Man's crowds create the third-largest city in the state: a sea of RVs overflowing with the staples of its society -- beer and snowmachines.
By Friday morning, however, the roar of the drinking is drowned out by the roar of engines. If speed isn't your style, stay away: the Ski & Sno-Go Classic is filled with plenty of downhill action, both on the slope and off.
It started as a bar bet between two friends: a skier and a snowmachiner.
"I had a bar bet with three of my buddies, with two of my buddies that I could beat them from the top of a ravine race site to the bottom," said Arctic Man founder Howie Thies. "I won that event, put that $300 into this event and we started the next year."
Twenty-five years later, it's an event that attracts thousands of spectators and dozens of competitive athletes from all over Alaska.
"Because in Alaska, we have a lot of snow," said one spectator. "We don't have NASCAR, so the next best thing is Arctic Man."
The skier starts at 5,800 feet, speeds downhill for about two miles then hooks up with a partner snowmachiner. The snowmachiner pulls the skier, reaching speeds of up to 90 miles per hour. After a couple of miles the skier lets go and continues to the finish line -- but it doesn't always work out that way.
"Once you get to that towrope, it's like it's game time," said one competitor. "You grab that rope and you latch on, and that thing pulls tight and it takes everything you've got just to get behind that sled and maneuver through that canyon. And you just try to help your driver out the best you can and hang on for your life -- it's great, though."
What started out as a fun bet is now an Alaska tradition. Trips to Arctic Man are in the foggy memories of many, but regardless of how many RVs park here or how many sponsors show up each year, the fundamentals remain the same: having fun in the Last Frontier.
This year, 57 teams entered the Ski & Sno-Go Classic. The first-place skier will receive $25,000 in honor of the event's 25th year, while the winner's partner snowmachiner will receive $11,000.
Contact Jackie Bartz at email@example.com
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