Alpacka Raft started in the fall of 2000 as a collaboration between Sheri Tingey, the design genius behind all of our products, and her son Thor, who had just completed a 600-mile packrafting traverse of Alaska’s Brooks Range and had some ideas for how to make a better performing packraft.
Sheri’s journey began in the late 60’s, when she fled the socialite circles of Phoenix, Arizona for the river-rat / ski-bum life of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. She had learned to sew from her grandmother and in Jackson, she founded “Design by Sheri,” a custom ski clothing shop and one of the first modern outdoor clothing companies. She was also an avid kayaker and brought one of the first whitewater kayaks to Jackson. In the early 80’s, Sheri sold her original gear business to raise a family, and it’s only fitting she got back into it as a result of her son.
Thor was born in Jackson, but the family moved to Denali Park, Alaska in 1981 where Thor’s father worked for the National Park Service. Thor’s childhood was spent immersed in the outdoors, where the family did everything from backpacking, to river trips, to mountaineering, to dog mushing, to hunting and fishing.
In the late 1980s, the Tingeys met Roman Dial, a college professor from Anchorage who had become one of Alaska’s most prolific adventurers, when he left a mountain bike at their house while on a trip through Denali. Roman had started packrafting a few years earlier when he was introduced to it on the Wilderness Classic adventure race. In 1992, Roman and his partners would make the cover of National Geographic for a 700-mile traverse of the Alaska Range via mountain bikes and packraft.
In 1996, Thor began attending college at Colorado College (“CC”) in Colorado Springs. The Ritt Kellog Memorial Fund had recently started at grant program to fund outdoor expeditions for CC students. Thor talked with his parents about ideas for a grand expedition and they suggested that he meet with Roman. Roman told Thor to try packrafting and suggested a 160-mile portion of his Alaska Range traverse. Thor and four college friends received a grant and completed the trip in the summer of 1998. They were hooked. In 2000, they received a second Ritt Kellog Fund grant and spent 39 days traversing 600-miles of the Brooks Range.
The one thing that really stood out for Thor on the two traverses was the lack of an adequate packraft. Roman had used a Sherpa packraft for his trips, but they had been discontinued in the 1980s. Thor used a Sevylor Trail Boat which was great for kicking around the local lake, but durable or river-worthy enough for an Alaskan traverse.
Our first packraft started from this point, with Sheri bringing her decades of kayaking and clothing design experience and Thor bringing his ideas for what would be suitable for his needs. That first boat, the “White Boat,” was made out of heavy white nylon with a urethane coating on one side with 12-inch diameter tubes and an upturned bow all sealed together using a hot air gun, a roller, and a lot of Aquaseal®. The new design took the packraft world by storm and the rest, they say, is history.
Today, every Alpacka Raft is manufactured by hand in our Mancos, Colorado factory by skilled craftsmen and women that are dedicated to their craft. The current models are the product of years of experiments, re-design, and great feedback from the boating community. Sheri remains our head designer and Thor rejoined the company in 2016 to handle our day to day operations, strategic planning, and design assistance. Thor’s wife Sarah is also on board and can be found doing everything from answering phones and emails to giving Sheri’s latest creation a whirl on the water. On any given day, up to 75% of our shop staff may be dogs. We continue to build tiny, little boats for those who demand something unreasonable from them. Our designs and innovation have completely redefined the sport, and with the help of adventurers all over the world, pushed packrafting further than we ever thought possible.
Sheri contemplating her latest spray deck design in New Zealand, 2004.
Thor Tingey and Philip Weidner on “Packrafting the Alaska Range” Ritt Kellog Fund Grant Trip, 1998.