Carving freeride lines in the Alaskan wilderness

A mountain bike adventure into the Alaskan backcountry results in hidden gems and a rider down.
By Andi Tillmann

Alaska is one of the best-known freeride destinations on the planet. So why go there and shoot another edit? Because going there in summer is a whole different story.

Relatively unpopulated, but with endless scope for mountain bike riding, Alaska is a perfect freeride destination. French rider Vincent Tupin, Martin Söderström and Moment Pictures set off to discover the treasures of what the Alaskan backcountry has to offer.

Watch the full edit in the player above and scroll down for more about this Alaskan adventure. 

The story begins in Anchorage...

After a long drive from Anchorage through beautiful landscape we arrived in an old mining town called Healy inside the Denali National Park. Our guide and local Alaskan mountain biker Carlos Crowl was the first to discover this place more than 10 years ago and has continuously worked on his private playground.

Alaska mountains and wilderness
Alaskan Wilderness © Toby Cowley

Light is not a problem in Alaska during the summer because it doesn’t really get dark until 2–3am! The proximity to the North Pole means it can have at least 20 hours of daylight in the summer. So even though we arrived quite late we still had tons of light left to get a first impression of the area.

What people don’t really know about Alaska is that it is anything but cold. We actually had some of the hottest days of our summer up here with temperatures more than 30 degrees Celsius on most of the days (we filmed in June). Although the weather is very unpredictable it often changed immediately from sun to rain. Dehydration is one of your biggest enemies in the wild, so we always had to make sure to have a good amount of water with us.

Mr. Vincent Tupin aka. Vinny T from France
Mr Vincent Tupin aka Vinny T from France © Toby Cowley

Old mine – perfect riding lines

Being a relic of old mining days the canyon was filled with endless riding lines that all looked incredible. With different layers and awesome colours the location was perfect for the shoot. The lines were accessible and, even better, there were perfect runouts. The years of carving and searching for coal, together with erosion, resulted in some crazy natural sculptures that only needed a bit of work to be turned into natural quarterpipes, berms and canyons.

Vincent Tupin kicks up some dust on a sketchy descent
The ground conditions were perfect to get loose © Toby Cowley

Wilderness and wildlife

It's so sparsely populated – you can drive for hours without seeing any other human beings. In fact it's way more likely to see a moose or eagle instead. It’s not all fun and games in Alaska, though. Having one of the biggest populations of grizzly bears, people in Alaska (at least by European standards) are pretty heavily armed when they're out enjoying nature. All we had were a mosquito zapper and an axe...

Alaska Grizzly bear
Alaska has a big population of Grizzly Bears © Toby Cowley

The locations were beautiful, but the mosquitoes were brutal, bigger than any we'd ever seen. You either had to accept losing half of your blood or just sit as close as you could to the campfire where we dried out our stinking socks and shoes after long days of digging and riding.

These musk ox (below) are some cheeky bastards. They look at you all cute, but once you turn your back to them they start running at you and try to ram you! 

Cheeky Musk Ox kept trying to ram the team
Cheeky Musk Ox kept trying to ram the team © Toby Cowley

It's not always the wildlife that was the danger, as the production crew found out while trying to film Vinny, yet avoiding being taken out by his elbows and protecting a Red Epic camera – that wouldn’t be happy to get destroyed by Vinny's helmet! The facial expressions kind of explain the scene pretty well.

Film crew Moment Pictures in Alaska
Trying not to get hit by the rider © Toby Cowley

Rider down

After a day of building jumps and scouting lines we started the filming on a nice jumpy and flowy track that we'd prepared the day before. Martin and Vinny were just warming up when the worst possible thing happened. Martin slipped his pedal on the warm-up jump and rammed it in the ground in such an unfortunate angle that he had to stop riding. Coming from two foot and leg injuries already we were hoping that the injury wasn't that bad and that he could join the filming again after some rest.

Due to the fact that he'd planned to ride in the upcoming FMB Diamond event in Munich he decided to fly back to Sweden to get medical treatment as he thought it was only a ligament injury at that time.

See what happened to Martin Söderström (below) when his Alaskan freeride adventure got cut short by a nasty injury.

So after three days in the RV Martin re-booked his fight and travelled back to Anchorage. Of course the bad luck wasn’t over and he got stuck in a huge wildfire and had to spend the night in the Alaskan backcountry – nearly missing his flight. The actual shock came later, though, when he went to the doctor and got diagnosed. He had broken his tibia and fibia, which was a season-ender for Martin.

Big lines, bigger crashes...

In the meantime we continued shooting with Vinny, who went for the big freeride lines. The terrain held its promises and was perfect to ride on and film. After several long shooting days, huge crashes (Vinny only knows full-speed!), awesome camping (bonfires, axe-throwing, beers) and nearly being completely eaten by mosquitoes, the location was a wrap.

Mountain biking in Alaska
The Alaska weather was dry and hot © Toby Cowley

By far the steepest and most technical spot of the trip. I remember the crew asking me if I really want to ride down this line. I was a little bit nervous but at the same time confident because I knew the dirt was soft, so I could brake when I wanted and control my speed.

Vincent Tupin
Vincent Tupin riding in Alaska down a steep chute
Setting off down the steep and sketchy run © Toby Cowley

Alaska’s only mountain bike park

We then made our way back to Anchorage to go to our last location, Alaska's only mountain bike park, Alyeska.

We'd organised to have a nice jump built for Vinny, as Alyeska has one of the craziest views with the Turnagain Arm in the backdrop. What looks like a fjord, the Turnagain Arm has one of the biggest tides in the world. Having this in the backdrop of our jump was what we came for.

Vincent Tupin riding Alaska berm
Tight left hand berm no problem for Vinny © Toby Cowley
Vincent Tupin jumping in Alaska
Stepdown into a blind landing © Toby Cowley
read more about
Next Story