Dozens of multicoloured kites zigging and zagging across Pangnirtung Nunavut skyline belong to the territory’s fastest-growing crew of adventure-sport enthusiasts: the snow sailors.
“We get some pretty good winds here in Pangnirtung. You get yourselves on skis with a parasail and go floating around the fiord,” said hamlet administrative officer Ron Mongeau about the fastest growing adventure sport on the planet.
“Sometimes you’re down on the ice, sometimes you’re up in the air.”
Snowkiting brings more and more new participants every year, but the speed, remoteness and relative newness of the sport mean the hamlet’s youth committee wanted to partner with a pro instructor to teach a safety “crash” course and work with the organization in developing a world class annual wind-sports festival in the tiny community.
“We’re making sure that anyone who’s going to be out on the fiord snow-sailing has basic first aid,” said Mange.
Martin Hanzalek, lead instructor at the Newfoundland Snowkite School, has travelled extensively throughout the Canadian Arctic teaching wilderness first aid programs, ice safety courses, avalanche awareness programs, and snowkite workshops and clinics. He was on the ice last week teaching a dozen or so Pangnirtung snow sailors. Before that he was doing the same thing in Iqaluit.
Beginners don’t put their skis or snowboards on initially when learning the basics of snow-kiting. They first need to learn how to control their kite. Once comfortable with basic flying, they slip into their snowboard or skis and start working with the wind allowing their kite to propel them along the ice and snow. Once the basics are learned the sky is literally the limit. Snowkiters can start catching a little air off a snow drift, riding in stronger winds with larger kites, and even using the kite to pull them up the various snow covered slopes that backdrop Pangnirtung and the entrance to the National Park.
“There’s a really active group here,” Martin Hanzalek said about the increasing popularity and momentum growing around the “none-consumptive and self-propelled” mode of Arctic travel. “Pangnirtung as a venue is one of the nicest places on the planet to take advantage of the sport.”
With Auyuittuq Park as a backdrop, reliable wind conditions, and new regular air-links between Baffin Island and Greenland, the sky’s the limit for the popularity of the sport and special interest groups are taking advantage of the opportunity every year. Hanzalek says his group is looking at creating a joint partnership between Canada and Greenland to conduct a snowkite expedition across the Greenland ice cap which will tie in cultural elements between the two Arctic communities.
“There are a lot of exciting ideas in the plans,” said Martin Hanzalek, giving one example of how every spring a dozens of people snowkite the prevailing winds across Greenland during optimal conditions in the spring. “It’s a fantastic way to see the planet’s second-largest ice cap and connect with some of the communities.” says Hanzalek.
The adventure sport could have potential adventure-sport-tourism spinoffs for Pangnirtung. Many who do the Greenlandic sojourn by snowkite already fly there via Iqaluit, where colourful sails are already a common sight on the bay. In Pangnirtung, Mongeau even sees the possibility down the road of a snow-kiting festival.
“It has really created a buzz in the community,” he said. “Every year we’re trying to attract more and more youth to it. It’s very popular right now and we’re really hoping it’s going to continue to grow.”
Some videos and more information about snow-kiting in Pang can be found on Hanzalek’s blog and on the hamlet’s website.