In Arctic Territory

Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, Canada, May 2006—I moved up to the Nunavut territory in the Canadian Arctic two years ago in 2004 with some serious reservations regarding the kind of life the Arctic would allow me to lead considering its isolation and climate. At the time in Quebec, the combination of being broke, fed up with icy slopes, and seasons plagued by weather only attributable to global warming, snowboarding was far from my mind and I hadn’t been riding in four years. For those reasons I left my board behind in a dusty suburban Montreal garage with the thought that the next time I saw it, it would be hanging on the wall of some cabin like a pair of vintage snowshoes.

Fast forward two years down the Arctic adventure trail and I came to realize the riding potential that my corner of the Arctic has to offer. Despite living in the western Arctic with topography so flat that you can see the curvature of the earth and at times you don’t know where the land ends and the sky begins, I was able to envision some great lines on the lonely slopes out behind the local airport. Perhaps brought on by two years of working an office job, six months of perpetual darkness and temperatures buried below minus thirty for just as long, I made the call to the shipping company, and within two weeks my board was back in my hands and I was back in the game.

The weekend my board arrived I gathered up a co-worker, Carolanne, and her husband Darren for an afternoon of Arctic riding. Darren and I jumped onto a snowmobile while Carolanne was unfortunately left to ride with the boards and gear strapped behind us on a qamutik—an Inuit sled used for transport. We headed out onto the frozen Arctic Ocean and rode along the coast for twenty minutes until we found terrain that sent the adrenaline rushing. The snow covered cliffs sat melting in the sun and were met with steep landings that extended straight down to the Arctic Ocean like a giant quarterpipe. The slopes adjacent to the cliffs had perfectly steep drop-offs for building a kicker capable of launching a willing rider fifty feet down the slope. Excited by an anticipation I hadn’t felt in six years, I started climbing the slope only to reach the top completely winded realizing what two years of paper pushing and unhealthy living had done to me.

The first couple of runs we used to get our bearings back and with Darren now shuttling Carolanne and I back up the slope on the snowmobile, the feeling came back quickly. By the fourth run, Darren was gearing up the camera and it was time to dig deep into the past for inspiration, find some balls, build a kicker and drop some cliffs.

We hit it for the rest of the afternoon, all the while thinking of old snowboard buddies back in Quebec and British Columbia and what a crazy experience this was, not only to be back on a board but to be riding on top of the world. Passers by on their way out across to the hunting grounds on the mainland would stop and watch us from the sea ice below. Towards the end of the day, which really never comes at this time of year, some younger locals stopped by on their snowmobiles, watched for a while, and then schooled us all in Arctic extreme sports as they ripped up and down the slopes and off some of the cliffs. It reminded me just how much things had progressed during my six-year hiatus.

As I prepare to leave the Canadian Arctic I am thankful for three things listed in the order in which I found them up here: professional experience (minus a newly acquired one-pack and carpal tunnel), my girlfriend Karlette, and that spring day on the slopes where I got my board and balls back and remembered why I started riding in the first place. Thanks Nunavut.

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