Arctic Man snowmachine gathering canceled after permitting snafu

Feb. 12—An annual snowmachine gathering that draws thousands of revelers to a parking pad off the Richardson Highway near Paxson in late spring has been canceled due to a snafu over state permitting.

Arctic Man, known as a rollicking off-grid spring break-style party with snowmachine racing and RV camping, was hosted annually each April until 2020 on an old pipeline construction camp pad at Mile 197.5 of the Richardson Highway managed by the state's Department of Natural Resources. The event was restarted last year after a three-year hiatus caused by COVID shutdowns and sponsorship challenges, organizers said. About 4,000 people attended the 2023 event, they said.

Because the four-day event falls under commercial recreation regulations, state officials require organizers pay permitting fees for land use. Arctic Man paid $6,640 in permitting fees for 2019 — a flat fee of $6,480, plus $4 fee per registered racer — under a five-year permit which expired last year, natural resources department officials said.

Arctic Man organizers collect snowmachine racer fees of about $35 per person or $140 per team, according to the Arctic Man website. Those parking an RV pay $225 per spot with room for about 420 RVs on the pad, organizers said. The fees cover the costs of plowing snow out of the pad, event insurance and bringing in amenities, such as port-a-potties, organizers said. Other costs are covered by donations and sponsorships, they said.

But plans for the 2024 event hit a snag when organizers applied to the state for a permit renewal late last year, said Howard Thies, a Fairbanks resident who first founded Arctic Man as a ski race in 1986.

Although a set of new permitting terms offered by state officials early last month lowered the base permit rate, Thies said accepting them would have made operating the event prohibitively expensive, because they broadened the required individual fees to also include those parking RVs rather than just registered racers.

And by the time the state sent an alternative permit offer using the previous fees several weeks later, it was too late for Thies to line up sponsors.

"Because we went so long to get the permit, I don't have time to set this thing up," he said. "It's a project — a huge project. So that's why we canceled 2024."

Arctic Man is registered as a nonprofit corporation with the state but pays federal business taxes because it is not registered as nonprofit with the Internal Revenue Service, he said. Thies said snow plowing preparation for the event runs about $80,000 each year, and the parking fees and racers' registrations they gather barely cover the event costs.

State land permitting regulations do not have special conditions for nonprofit entities, natural resources department officials said. Thies said he hopes to work with state officials to change that so they can offer lower permitting fees to community events like Arctic Man.

"All of these motorhomes coming here, this is money coming back into the community," he said. "It's not like we're putting millions in our pockets."