Surfing on the snow
Self-taught boarders gather in Pangnirtung to share skills and catch some air
“That was the best run I’ve ever done,” says William Audlakiak, a grin spreading across his face.
Audlakiak, a 21-year-old snowboarder from Qikiqtarjuaq, is one of about a dozen youth from across the territory who converged on Pangnirtung last weekend for a workshop on a sport that has yet to gain the same notoriety in the North as it has in the South.
Audlakiak has been boarding for about four years and though he says the sport is not popular in Qikiqtarjuaq he has taken others out with him to try their hand at what some describe as “surfing on the snow.”
Brad Chambers, a teacher in Pangnirtung, organized the three-day workshop after travelling as a coach with two snowboarders to the Arctic Winter Games in Greenland in March.
With Nunavut being rich in both snow and mountains, Chambers said the sport is a natural addition to recreational activities here.
He applied to Sport Nunavut’s sport development fund and received $5,000 to bring interested youth to the mountains of Pangnirtung and help with fuel costs for snow machines. He then approached recreation coordinators in communities to spread the word he was looking for interested snowboarders. The only criterion was that participants own their own snowboards.
Arctic Winter Games rules require snowboard competitors be 16 or under, but Chambers says the AWG may raise the age to 18, so that was the cut off he used for participants in the workshop. At 21, Audlakiak doesn’t fit into that category, but Chambers says he made an exception in the hopes Audlakiak would go home and help others who might be interested in the sport.
“The main objective for sport development money is to raise awareness of a sport,” Chambers explains. “All these people can go back to their communities and encourage others.”
As the snow fell with force on Saturday, snow machines pulled qamutiit high into the mountains around the community, stopping just short of one of the highest peaks in the area, Angajuqqaaq (The Boss). The deep snow and limited visibility did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the snowboarders.
“It’s perfect snow,” says 16-year-old Stephen Rigby of Iqaluit, one of two Team Nunavut Arctic Winter Games boarders.
“Try the flying squirrel,” he says, arching his back and encouraging a boarder waiting above the jump.
Rigby is self-taught — as are all the participants — and knows his way around a snowboard. He takes the time to talk with the other snowboarders and offers tips on building practice ramps for jumping and ways to complete the jumps with accuracy.
“It’s so good to finally get some snowboarding happening in Nunavut,” he says. “It gives people something else to do outside in the winter other than Skidoo.”
Chambers agrees, pointing out that snowboarding doesn’t require an arena or a gymnasium, but it does require a board and a helmet if the person plans to try jumping.
Accidents can happen, regardless of the calibre of equipment being used. On Friday, Chambers timed the boarders and they practised some jumping. One snowboarder from Pangnirtung dislocated his wrist after landing badly and had to be flown to Iqaluit that night.
But the enthusiasm wasn’t diminished as boarders were shuttled to the top of Angajuqqaaq on Saturday for a mile-long board down on “perfect powder.”
“Oh my God, that was the most awesome thing,” one snowboarder cried after coming to a stop near the snow machines.
Sunday was another grey day, but boarders made the most of it by building a ramp to jump from closer to town. Skill levels varied, but Chambers said it was what he expected.
“Some are good and need better equipment and higher goals,” he said. “It’s all about getting them excited about something different they can do in their own communities.”