'Inuit learn in half the time'

Kimmirut kids ride with the wind

By JOHN THOMPSON

KIMMIRUT – A small crowd of children marvel as Peter Qisiiq races across the frozen bay on cross-country skis, pulled by a harness attached to a big kite.

He hits a snow hummock and launches into the air. "Whoah," says one kid. "He's fast," says another.

Qisiiq, who is from Kangiqsujuaq, has practiced paraskiing, also known as kite skiing, for several years now. That's why the kids call him "the expert."

Each kid in Kimmirut's school will also have a chance to try to paraski this week. The lessons are offered by Guy Laflamme, a Montreal man who earns a living designing web sites, but spends his spare time dreaming up ways to spread his enthusiasm for paraskiing across Nunavik and Nunavut.

Laflamme says the kids he teaches are naturals. "Inuit learn in half the time," he says.

He figures there's no shortage of the two key ingredients needed to paraski in all the communities he visits. There's lots of snow, and lots of wind.

"Paraskiing is a perfect tool," he says.

All they're missing are skis, kites and harnesses. That, and a group of committed people to start a club.

It's the second year he's visited Kimmirut. This year, he plans to leave paraskiing equipment behind. He hopes a club will grow here, as has happened in Kangiqsujuaq, Qisiiq's home town.

For Kangiqsujuaq, paraskiing may even help draw tourists into a new provincial park established outside town.

The park is home to Pingualuit, a crater lake sometimes called "the crystal eye of Nunavik." Motor vehicles are banned near the crater to protect the lake's unusually pure waters.

Paraskiing would be a perfect way to visit the crater during the spring, suggests Laflamme.

But whether paraskiing sticks in Kimmirut remains to be seen.

To begin with, who will care for the equipment? Kimmirut's recreation coordinator is out of town. Meanwhile, the kites are both expensive and probably easy to wreck.

Past interest has been fleeting. Billy Akavak, a teaching assistant at the school, bought a paraski last year. He used it a few times to ski around the bay, but this is the first time he's used them this year.

Then there's that thing that Qisiiq got his lines all tangled up in: a snowmobile, parked near the pack of kids.

Paraskiing offers a great physical workout and an eco-friendly alternative to burning fossil fuels. But it's hard to compete against the convenience offered by a snowmobile.

Laflamme remains optimistic. After Kimmirut, he's off to Pangnirtung, then Kuujjuaq.

He knows that his dream of paraskiing clubs operating across the North won't happen overnight. He says he's giving himself 10 years.

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