Mom and kids set to conquer South Pole

“If you start worrying about risks, you’ll be stuck inside all the time”



October 19, 2004: Only a day before their historic adventure to the South Pole is set to begin, the McNair-Landry family is scrambling around their house by the Northmart in Iqaluit.

It’s a Tuesday afternoon, and the intrepid mother-daughter-son team have phone calls to make, piles of ski gloves to sort, computer gear to pack, and high-energy snacks to prepare before heading out on the trip of a lifetime.

Suddenly, an ominous smell of smoke wafts through air.

“Oh, no!” Eric, a tall, slender, bespectacled 20-year-old, shouts, jumping to rescue his homemade granola from the oven.

The chaos might be enough to unnerve most people planning to cross-country ski uphill, across 1,500 kilometres of undulating glacier, then back, hauling two months’ worth of food to the middle of the bottom of the planet, facing -40 C temperatures.

That’s besides the $250,000 in sponsorship and expenses on the line.

But this tightly-knit trio doesn’t seemed fazed.

In part, they’ve got experience going for them. Their 53-year-old leader, Matty McNair, has previously led the first all-women team to the geographic North Pole, and has been to the South Pole twice. The spritely, short woman is also the head of NorthWinds, an Iqaluit-based premiere polar expedition company that has organized several big trips to the coldest and most remote places in the world.

Plus, they say they’ve got one of the best weapons of all: lessons in Inuit culture.

When NorthWinds started in 1990, Matty and her then-partner Paul Landry often worked with Inuit hunters, who taught them about living on the land. They even did a dog sled tour of most of the communities on Baffin Island.

The most important point they learned, however, was simply to have fun.

“The style that I’ve developed comes from living here,” says Matty, who moved to Iqaluit from Ontario, about 14 years ago. “Most people who do Arctic expeditions think they have to be miserable and uncomfortable.

“People here know you don’t have to do that.”

Instead of suffering ice in the bottom of their sleeping bag, and depriving themselves of large meals, the McNair-Landry method is to “live large,” heating their tents at night, taking warm baths, and always making sure they have snacks along the way.

Sarah, who at 18 will become the youngest person to reach the South Pole, shares her mom’s philosophy.

Like her brother, Sarah jokes that she grew up bouncing around in the back of a qamotik during her parents’ trips, and has seen that spending time in extremely cold regions doesn’t mean you have to come back with frostbite.

Sarah, fit and bright-eyed, also says she’s not afraid of the challenge ahead.

“Whatever happens, we’ll figure it out,” she says, surrounded by the chaos of bags waiting to be packed. “I’m not worried about it.

“If you start thinking about all the risks that could happen, you would be stuck inside all the time.”

Even as they prepare, the family meets some unexpected obstacles. Their two expedition partners from the UK have lost their custom-made skis, and left it to the McNair-Landry’s to get new ones. Their flight out of Iqaluit also got cancelled due to mechanical problems.

But the ambitious 55-day schedule remains. On Nov. 1, the group plans to fly to the edge of the South Pole from southern Chile, and start skiing. To return, they plan to use giant kites to pull them back to where they started, an idea spawned during a family kiting trip across the Greenland icecap last year.

To follow the group’s travels, which will be updated by laptop computer and satellite phone along the way, visit their web site,

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