Jun. 01, 2004 By Doug Ogden
* June 2004

April, the culmination of all that is winter in Alaska - at least South Central Alaska - is now behind us. The largest of the Alaskan Snowmachine (snowmobile) events of the season are in the spring, including The Valdez Mountain Man, the first qualifier for the Jackson Hole Hill Climb and The Alyeska Hill Climb, the season finale of all Alaskan snowmachine events. But stuck in between is the biggie of them all, the Arctic Man Ski and Sno-Go Classic.

©2004 Doug Ogden/AutoGraphs Photography

If you haven't heard of the Arctic Man Ski and Sno-Go Classic, it was a race cooked up over some beers by Howard Thies about 20 years ago. The idea was to have a skier start at the top of a mountain known as "The Tit" and speed run down to the bottom of a canyon where the skier would "Hook-up" with a snow machiner. The sledder would then haul them up and out the other end of the canyon to the "Release" where the skier would speed over a lip and down to the finish line. Great idea, eh? The idea took off and now there are world class Olympic skiers and snowboarders and very talented snow machiners competing for a growing purse. The whole course covers a total of 5.5 Miles. As for elevation change, from the start at The Tit, the course drops 1,700 feet to "hook-up" then climbs 1200 feet to "release" then drops 1,200 to the finish line. The record speed to date for both sled and skier is 88.3 mph in 1999 by Johnny Martin on a Yamaha 600 pulling skier Petr Kakes. The Quickest overall time of 4:04.46 was set by Polaris rider, Tyson Johnson and skier, Sasha Gros in 2003.

©2004 Doug Ogden/AutoGraphs Photography

This year, the 19th annual running of the A-Man, attracted over 14,000 enthusiasts for a week in the HooDoo Mountains also known as "the middle of nowhere". For one week a year the Arctic Man "village" becomes the 5th largest community in Alaska. And most certainly, the biggest party in the state. In recent years, the reputation of excess has been slowly calmed with an interest to attract more families and, with it, national sponsorships. The Alaska State Troopers are there to "watch over" the crowd and the Air National Guard have several Blackhawk helicopters on hand to provide emergency medical evacuations to Fairbanks.

©2004 Doug Ogden/AutoGraphs Photography

People live in everything from sleeping bags in the back of pickups, tents pitched on snowmachine trailers and converted school buses to custom class "A" motor coaches with 28' enclosed heated trailers. Regardless of what you sleep in, everyone brings their sleds. This is some of the finest riding in the state. Who sleeps at Arctic Man, anyway?

Relative to the Valdez Mountain Man Hill Climb where it snowed 5 feet in 24 hours on race day, the Arctic Man Ski and Sno-Go Classic was more "user friendly". Everyone attending this years A-Man enjoyed tons of snow, lots of sun and warm daytime temps.

We arrived at the village on Monday afternoon direct from The "Snowed-out" Valdez Mountain Man. After unloading most of our stuff in the vendors tent where we display the pictures I take during the week, we settled in to our assigned camp site, got our sleds unloaded and prepared for a week of coach living.

Tuesday was a day for playing in the nearly-untouched powder that was within an easy ride from camp. This level of quality riding later in the week was not so easily attained but still available to those interested in finding it. We spent all day cutting up 2' virgin powder, jumping cornices and otherwise marking everything we could find. Starting Wednesday, the rest of my week at A-Man was either behind my camera shooting all the action or in the vendor's tent showing what I shot. The old brain teaser comes to mind; If a great party takes place at Arctic Man and you're stuck in the vendor's tent, does it really have a big camp fire, last most of the night and include lots o' fun? Huh?

©2004 Doug Ogden/AutoGraphs Photography

This year the A-Man Race went off under a partially cloudy sky casting a flat light on the course. The Men's Ski team of Petr Kakes and Johnny Martin took first with the fastest time of the day covering the course in 4:13.66. Julie Thul and Aurore deMaulmont took first in the Women's Ski Team with an overall time of 4:21.03 and also achieved a first for Arctic Man by entering and taking third place in the Men's Ski division as well. 3 of the 4 Men's Board teams failed to finish leaving the team of Call/Liska with the first place honors. The Women's Board team of Prescott and Grant took home the winner's purse. Congratulations to all the racers.

As the Arctic Man grows in talent it is also growing in other successful competitive events. The Alaska Motor Mushers Club organized an excellent Hill-X right after the A-Man race with thousands of spectators enjoying a great show as waves of machines screamed past running back up the ski course from the finish lie to "the lip". Saturday, the AMMC produced a Sno-X that entertained a huge crowd and provided some excellent competition for racers from novice to pro. Thanks goes out to Chris Graeber and her crew of volunteers for all their effort.

A new addition this year to the Arctic Man agenda was the LEAD-DOG Helmet Light, "Light Up the Night Fireworks Show". The Show, I am told, awed the crowd with a spectacular display. (Remember, I was in the vendor's tent) The location of the show was on the north side of the parking lot near Vendor's Row where all the snow machine manufacturers and after market products were represented. The night time background for the fireworks was enhanced by a brilliant extravaganza of the northern lights that lasted for hours. John Theis (Howard's son said, " That was one of the most awesome fireworks shows I've seen. To be able to have the snowy mountains as a backdrop with the northern lights above, was really cool." A very special thanks goes to LEAD-DOG Helmet Light and Robert Hall of Gorilla Fireworks. As for myself, being inside the vendors tent, I can only go by what I am told about the goings on outside. Next year I've just got to get out of that tent!

Another year of Arctic Man is behind us and even though most of you said "never again, we know many of you will be back next year. I for one, am looking forward to it.

And finally, for the whole Arctic Man event, Howard Thies deserves a big Atta Boy and thanks for all his effort for this and the last 18 Artic Man Ski and Sno-Go Classics.

For more information:
Arctic Man Ski and Sno-Go Classic
LEAD-DOG Helmet Light

Doug Ogden is the owner of AutoGraphs Photography and is the official photographer for Arctic Man. For the other 51 weeks out of the year, Doug and his wife Nancy travel all over the state photographing motorsports and extreme events.


 Editor's Note:

This is the third contribution this season from LEAD-DOG Helmet Light CEO Steve Karcz and AutoGraphs Photography's Doug Ogden. As you can tell, they are both deeply involved in and supportive of snowmachining in Alaska. ORC thanks them for their time and talents to bring our readers this unique coverage, and we wish we could have been there with you!

Please do not use images in this article without AutoGraph's express permission, but we do encourage you to check out his site to purchase them.

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