Meet Etuangat Akeeagok, the 19-year-old snowboarder who makes his own sealskin mitts, lives in a town of 130 people (where it’s dark five months of the year) and only recently rode a chairlift and shredded with other people for the first time.
Akeeagok started snowboarding at 16, somewhat by chance, more so out of the boredom dished out by a long Arctic winter.
Words: Brian Peech
“One day I was so bored and I had nothing else to do. I found an old snowboard in our shack,” he says. “I decided to give it a try and it went on from there. I started teaching myself how to snowboard and eventually I started making jumps and going to bigger mountains.”
Akeeagok is from Grise Fiord, Nunavut, Canada (pop: 130), the most northern community in North America. Suffice to say, the snowboard scene isn’t exactly booming.
“We have a lot of mountains, hills and glaciers so it’s pretty easy to find places to snowboard. But snowboarding in Nunavut isn’t too big right now,” he says, “I am hoping to change that.”
As one could imagine, there are challenges to snowboarding in the far reaches of the Canadian Arctic.
“The biggest challenge is the cold,” he says. “In the winter, the average temperature is from -40 C to -55 C and from October to February it’s dark 24-7.”
And while it’s not impossible to get new gear in Nunavut, it does require patience and resourcefulness.
“It’s pretty easy to get snowboard gear but it takes from 2 weeks to a month to receive it,” he adds. “I have a pair of seal skin mitts. It’s normal to have them where I’m from but when people saw them in Whistler, it blew their minds. I’ve always gotten compliments on the chairlift.”
“When I first started snowboarding it was all hiking small hills and as I got better I started climbing mountains that are 800-1000 metres high,” he says. “After hiking all of my runs back home for a year or two, it felt so good to go on a chairlift and just enjoy the long runs.”
Even more incredible? It was also the first time he’d hit the slopes with anyone other than his dog, Rocky.
“Riding with other people for the first time was the best feeling ever—sharing the same passion and just having a good time,” he says.
“When I tell people my story about where I’m from and how I started snowboarding, they are either shocked or confused. It’s pretty funny. But I think growing up in Nunavut shredding has taught me how passionate I am about snowboarding—I never thought it would take me to Whistler.”