Mountain Men of Alaska calendars originally began as a one-year project for owner and creator Kayce James. It has since turned into an Alaska institution and James’ primary source of income since its beginning in 2016.
The calendar features an array of men — often wearing little to no clothing — in front of scenic Alaska backdrops doing everything from juggling flamethrowers to beekeeping and skijoring.
James wanted to showcase the comical and vulnerable side of Alaska’s men in all their shapes, sizes and sexualities and thus Mountain Men of Alaska was born.
“I had a lot of guy friends that didn’t really fit the mold of what people think Alaskan men are,” she said. “I made a practice calendar and I jokingly just called it Mountain Men Gone Wild or something like that,” she said.
She gave the calendars to friends and ended up with a spare one.
James posted it to social media and said she would give it to the person who gave the best reason for wanting the calendar. Responses filled the comment section and it was then that she knew she might have something.
Tom Miller, a friend James credits with a lot of the businesses’ success, encouraged James to pursue the endeavor.
She started by photographing friends but when the calendars gained popularity people began reaching out and asked to be photographed — including men up to their 80s.
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In high school, James became interested in photography and took local college courses to learn more about the trade.
“I’ve always been self conscious of my photography, but that’s the glory of the calendar because you only need one or two shots,” she said. “I credit my imagination for a lot of it.”
Mountain Men of Alaska has gained more than 40,000 followers online and has been shipped around the world to places like Australia, the United Kingdom and Norway.
“Honestly, I don’t think it would have gone that far without social media,” she said.
Her calendars — designed by Alaskan graphic designer and illustrator Sarah K. Glaser — are a hot commodity for tourists and locals alike and can be found in almost every city across the state from Fairbanks to Ketchikan.
The 2016 cover image featured a naked man driving a team of sled dogs through a snow-covered valley. One month featured a man curled up next to musk ox named Guacamole.
Another featured Ronn Hemstock, photographed the year after he was attacked by a brown bear, in his shredded Carhartt jacket. Future calendars will feature spearfishing and a tea party with a llama, James said.
Needless to say, the scenes are quirky and full moons abound.
Work has already begun for the 2023 calendar — James completed her fifth photoshoot on a recent Sunday evening in Cooper Landing.
While operating Kenai River Dog, James’ second business that offers scenic float trips, she watched JJ Brown and his partner Amy Brodersen cart their three dogs — Stella, Gussie and Sawyer — around Cooper Landing in their yellow ‘71 Volvo Sedan as they shuttled rafts. This scene inspired her to make a photograph.
Sitting on the bow of her 16-foot cataraft, James photographed Brown, owner and guide of Kenai River Trout Anglers, as he stood shirtless in his boat, surrounded by a group of five indifferent dogs.
For years James has said yes to adventures as she continues working on her calendars. Her most memorable shoot came by chance in Deadhorse and featured a naked helicopter pilot and photographer on an Arctic hillside.
“I think that one really sticks out,” she said laughing as she paddled down the turquoise water. Bright red spawning salmon swam past.
At a bend in the river anglers waded in water as a dog ran along the riverbank.
“That’s Fiona!” James said. She paddled closer to find David Maternowski and announced him as Mr. Cover Model, 2017. He laughed and waved back as he reeled his line in.
In addition to 12 months of Mountain Men, this year’s calendar also features cutout paper clothing designed by Glaser to make the calendar office-appropriate.
James dreams of selling her calendars in Deadhorse and hopes to include more diversity in the coming years. She plans to run it as long as she can and as long as interest remains.
For Mr. December— a.k.a Timothy Agnew — modeling in the calendar has been fun and a way to help represent people who look like him.
“I like what she’s doing,” he said. “I think it’s shedding a positive light on the differences of people everywhere.”
Agnew estimates temperatures were hovering between 10 and 15 degrees last year during the photoshoot in Girdwood as he posed in nothing but a Santa Claus hat and boxers.
From a bridge nearby, a small crowd gathered and watched the photoshoot.
“It made me feel good because I have a lot of friends who tell me, ‘You are representing guys our size’,” Agnew said. “You rarely see big guys out there, running around there in the middle of winter in boxers.”
James found Agnew through his Instagram page and after talking with a mutual friend decided he would be a good fit for the calendar.
“There’s a big shift going on where all body types are starting to be accepted more,” Agnew said. “There’s so much more to this place. It’s good to see... (that) represented.”