To The Yukon and Alaska On A Whim
A trip to Alaska should probably be on every snowmobiler’s bucket list.
Now, it’s one thing to drive to the southern tip of the Alaska Panhandle, just to say you did. But it’s a much bigger commitment to make the trek from a southern part of British Columbia, all the way through the Yukon and deep into Alaska to ride.
A trip like this requires a lot of planning and preparation. One reason why is that many riding areas in AK are a good distance from the nearest town. So riders will often stock up on fuel and food, and camp out at trailheads on the side of the highway for a few days. But doing it this way is completely foreign to me. So much planning and preparation.
But…that’s not exactly how this trip went. Instead, we relied heavily on the Ross Mercer Factor.
For those of you who don’t know who Ross Mercer is, let me enlighten you. Ross is a true OG of the big mountain extreme snowmobile movement from the early days of the 2 Stroke Cold Smoke films. At the time, he was one of only a few riders pioneering distance jumps, 270˚ rotations and backcountry flips. Ross is a born and raised Yukon local, and was the first freeride snowmobiler in Canada to land a Red Bull contract.
After Ross retired from professional snowmobiling, he spent his time focused on building Mercer Contracting, his transportation company. But recently, he has renewed his passion for mountain sledding.
I met Ross on social media about a year ago, and we started clicking right away. Sometime in March, I randomly mentioned something to Ross about maybe making a trip up to ride in Alaska. Ross simply replied that if I could come in early April, he’d take a couple of weeks and show me all the best spots in the Yukon and AK. We could camp in his toy hauler.
I took his offer at face value, gave him some dates and as far as we were concerned, it was a done deal. “Call me when you’re close to Whitehorse,” he said, and that was that.
Gathering a Crew
Assembling a solid crew on such short notice was surprisingly easy. I knew before I even asked my friend Allan Sawchuck that he would say yes (he did). We also wanted to invite a couple of serious shredders who could handle big days and unforeseen challenges, contribute some mechanical skills and parts and, most importantly, had the schedule and budget to make it work.
Our first choice was a couple of riding buddies from home who fit the bill—Sam Standing and Andrew Munster. They both said yes, and within days of chatting, Andrew’s truck and trailer were filled with sleds, tools, parts and all sorts of custom gadgets from the minds of Sam and Andrew.
Just like that we were ready to head out on a whim to the Yukon and Alaska.
The Long Road North
Regardless of which way you go, getting from the Lower Mainland, BC to the big part of Alaska by road involves three long, long days of driving. So, we decided to add in a boat ride.
We departed Squamish and travelled first by road and ferry to Port Hardy on Vancouver Island. From there, we boarded another ferry to sail up the Inside Passage to Prince Rupert. The four of us shared a cabin on the overnight voyage. We awoke in Prince Rupert at 7am and hit the road.
We made it six hours before ADD got the best of us, so we stopped and had a quick half day shred just outside of Meziadin Junction. Afterwards, we jumped back in the truck for another six hour drive to Dease Lake, still in BC.
The next day we arrived in Whitehorse and stayed overnight at a hotel, drying our gear and making plans to meet Ross. He wanted to take us on a day trip to a favourite local zone in the direction of Skagway, AK.
Meeting Ross in person was memorable; he showed up in true Yukon fashion—wearing insulated mud boots, sweatpants and a hoodie. His truck exhaust is louder even than my black Dodge, and that’s saying something.
The riding where Ross took us that day was incredible; in nearly one day we rode in BC, Yukon and almost into Alaska. The hillclimbs are massive, and we rode past historical sites from the gold rush days. It was a great start.
The next day, Ross proved himself a man of his word. We packed up his 42-foot fifth wheel toy hauler with grub, fuel and sleds. It would be pulled by one of his well-used, Cummins-powered pilot trucks with 700,000 km on it.
With everything in order, we headed out for the start of our real Yukon and Alaska experience.
Our first destination was Haines Summit, where the Yukon Territory and British Columbia meet, not far from the Alaska border. We would spend the next four days camped on the side of the highway, riding tree zones near Haines, AK, and endless alpine zones in the Haines Summit Pass area. The experience of winter RV camping on the side of the highway in the mountains is something words cannot fully describe.
The trip was going smoothly, but our time riding at Haines Summit did come with a few moments of adversity. Ross and I both had to each make separate day trips back to Whitehorse to get additional parts to keep the trip going.
As timing would have it, by the fourth day a storm rolled in, so we packed up and made the full day’s journey from Haines Summit to Thompson Pass, well into Alaska.
Arriving at Thompson Pass felt like a scene from a movie. The skies were perfectly blue and we had the parking lot to ourselves. We set up camp, finished bolting up some new parts to my sled and geared up for our first ride at 8 pm!
The snow conditions were so good that we were able to ride and session a feature less than 50 meters from our camp—one good enough for Andrew and myself to land multiple flip variations each. We watched a 10 pm alpine sunset and had a BBQ dinner at midnight back at camp. It was a hell of a way to start our trip in AK.
Over the next three days we would get after it big time—hitting massive jumps and dozens of upside-down features, exploring endlessly and enjoying meeting and riding with some truly wonderful people: Jesse Larsen, Randy Sherman, Ryan and Jess Britt, Dan Phillips and fellow Ski-Doo Ambassador, Ashley Chaffin.
The snow conditions couldn’t have been more perfect, and after nine days of riding on this trip, we saved the best for last. The seemingly endless days of sun and cold powder had started to turn, and we decided to spend our last ride day exploring some of the most massive, big mountain alpine riding terrain I’ve ever seen. The endless glaciers and ranges made other zones I’ve ridden in places like Pemberton, BC and Kamchatka, in Russia, seem small.
The last night in Alaska, we made one final BBQ dinner, told stories around the fire and, again, watched the northern lights perform their act. The next morning we pulled down camp, loaded up, gave some high-fives and returned to Whitehorse, where we said goodbye for now to our new friend Ross Mercer. There were more high-fives, a few hugs and a couple of tears (we won’t admit who). Myself, Al, Sam and Andrew then turned south for the long, three-day drive home.
To Yukon and Alaska on a Whim
By the time we made it home, we had been on the road for 16 days. Of those, we rode ten. Eight were full bluebird days, with two of mixed sun and cloud. We found perfect-to-good snow conditions every day; made new friendships; explored four different mountain ranges; and managed to solve all our mechanical breakdowns, including breaking off one of the three axles on the toy hauler. There were no injuries, no arguments.
All in all, this was a unicorn road trip that worked out better than we’d barely planned.
I couldn’t be more thankful for the people from the Yukon and Alaska who made our trip so perfect. And a very special thank you to Ross. He is a man of his word and one heck of a nice guy. Without Ross’ hospitality and kindness—from arranging accommodations, fuel, organic food and travel, to providing local knowledge, safety, care and a lot of laughter—our experience could not have been so amazing.
Until next time. – Cody