To the displeasure of some locals, Tailgate Alaska grabs land use permit from DNR

One of the biggest winter sports events kicked off over the weekend in Thompson Pass. Tailgate Alaska is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. But, not everyone is in a joyful mood. Some Thompson Pass enthusiasts are not happy after the Alaska Department of Natural Resources granted a land use permit to event organizers and are hoping to appeal the decision.

Listen now

When you go to the Tailgate Alaska website, this is the first video will you see. If you click on the link about tickets, you will find a video of Tailgate Alaska founder Mark Sullivan telling you what activities come with a ticket.

In its ten years of existence, the festival known for its skiing, snowboarding, and other winter sports has been criticized by residents in nearby Valdez. Those concerns grew after the Division of Mining, Land, and Water of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources recently granted a four-year land-use permit to Tailgate Alaska organizers.

Lisa Wax is a long-time Thompson Pass enthusiast and has been involved with events in the area like the World Extreme Skiing Championships the nineties.

“My reaction was devastated,” Wax said. “The State has decided to reward their failure.”

Like most of Tailgate’s critics, Wax said she has concerns about the event’s lack of safety plan.

“Skiers might be skiing up a mountain and one of these people that just doesn’t have the experiences start gets on a snowmachine and starts cutting above them and doesn’t have the background of avalanche safety often times never been on a snowmachine or in the backcountry at all,” Wax said.

Other concerns include environment impacts on the area and the lack of economic impact on Valdez. Now, Wax and others are appealing the permit.

“You know they are staying thirty miles outside of Valdez,” Wax said. “They are coming in with their trailers and campers all packed. And, they are bringing their food and fuels. As several people indicated in the comments, they have very little interest in Valdez and only use the town on an absolute desperate basis.”

The permit allows organizers to hold the event for ten days between March 15th and April 15th near Worthington Glacier on Thompson Pass. They can allow an unlimited number of people into the festival. They are responsible for snow removal, creating parking spaces, and setting up and cleaning up the area after they are done.

Clark Cox is the South Central Regional Manager of the Division of Mining, Land, and Water.

“The general public that comes to recreate and hangout in the area is kind of no different than anywhere else in Alaska,” Cox said. “You’re responsible for your own actions.”

Cox said DNR gets complaints about events like Tailgate Alaska all the time even though they are not responsible for what goes on within them.

“In a way, we rely on those folks to be the eyes and ears,” Cox said. “We can’t possibly be in every remote location where we issue every easement to every permit to every lease. So, that’ where someone letting us know what they have seen, take some pictures, document it and send it to us, and let us do our evaluation with that permit, lease, or easement holder. That’s how the system works.”

Wax and others have 20 days from the time that the permit was issued to submit comments to DNR Commissioner Andrew Mack. If the appeal is successful, the permit will be revoked.

KCHU attempted to contact Tailgate Alaska founder Mark Sullivan about the permit issue via phone, but was unable to leave a message due to the voicemail box being full. An email message was sent to an address posted on the Tailgate Alaska Facebook page, but was not returned in time for this story.

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Tony Gorman is a reporter at KCHU in Valdez.

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