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Snowkiting takes off in windy hamlet

Peter Worden
Northern News Services
Published Monday, March 04, 2013

The many multicoloured kites zigzagging across Pangnirtung fiord 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 senior administrative officer Ron Mongeau about the sport.

"Sometimes you're down on the ice, sometimes you're up in the air."

Snow-kiting attracts more and more new participants every year, but the speed, remoteness and relative newness of the sport meant the hamlet's youth committee wanted to partner with a pro instructor to teach a safety "crash" course.

"We're making sure that anyone who's going to be out on the fiord snow-sailing has basic first aid," said Mongeau.

Martin Hanzalek, lead instructor at the Newfoundland Snowkite School, has travelled throughout the North giving lessons before. He was on the ice last week teaching a dozen or so Pangnirtung snow sailors.

Beginners often don't put their skis on, but first learn to control their kite. Once comfortable with that, they slip into their skis or snowboard and start letting the wind, via their kite, propel them around the ice. Once they're experienced with that, they can start catching air off a snow drift, or riding a strong gust of wind, and pull themselves up to get a few seconds of air time.

"There's a really active group here," Hanzalek said about the increasing popularity of the "none-consumptive, self-propelled" mode of Arctic travel. "Pangnirtung as a venue is one of the nicest places in the planet to take advantage of the sport."

With Auyuittuq Park as a backdrop, good one-directional wind conditions in the fiord, and new, regular air-links between Baffin Island and Greenland, the sky's the limit for the popularity of the sport. Hanzalek said his group is looking at creating a joint partnership between Canada and Greenland to conduct a snowkite expedition across the Greenland ice cap.

"There are a lot of exciting ideas in the plans," said Hanzalek, giving as an one example how every spring a multitude of people snow-kite the prevailing winds across Greenland. "It's a fantastic way to see the planet's second-largest ice cap and connect with some of the communities."

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.

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