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, Ariz., for the river-rat/ski-bum life of Jackson Hole, Wyo. Her grandmother had taught her how to sew. And while in Jackson she founded “Design by Sheri,” a custom ski clothing shop and one of the first modern outdoor clothing companies. Also an avid kayaker, she 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. He spent his childhood immersed in the outdoors, and with his 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 when he left a mountain bike at the their house while on a trip to Denali. A college professor from Anchorage, Roman had become one of Alaska’s most prolific adventurers and was also an early adopter of the packraft, after being introduced to one during the Wilderness Classic adventure race. In fact, he 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 1992. Read about their trip here.
In 1996, Thor started 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, who in turn suggested Thor hike and packraft a 160-mile portion of his Alaska Range traverse. After he and four college friends received the new grant, they completed the trip in the summer of 1998 and were hooked. In 2000, they received a second Ritt Kellog Fund grant and spent 39 days traversing 600-miles of the Brooks Range.
However, according to Thor, the packrafts they used for these two traverses were wholly inadequate. 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 not durable or river-worthy enough for an Alaskan traverse.
It was at this point that Thor asked his mom to build him a raft. Sheri brought her decades of kayaking and clothing design experience and Thor brought his ideas for what would be suitable for his backcountry 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 is history.
Today, every Alpacka Raft packraft is manufactured by hand in our Mancos, Colo., 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. Thor rejoined the company in 2016 as the Chief Executive Officer, handling our day-to-day operations, strategic planning, and design assistance. And Thor’s wife, Sarah is the Chief Operating Officer, doing everything from planning outreach events, to partnering with nonprofits, to giving Sheri’s latest creation a whirl on the water. On any given day, up to 50% 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 refined and defined 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 a “Packrafting the Alaska Range” Ritt Kellog Fund Grant Trip, 1998.