At first, they climbed fences and hiked back uphill. Now, they catch a mechanical lift up to their heated clubhouse. Yellowknife's snowboarders have come a long way.
This month, the city's Bristol Pit – a gravel pit transformed into a snowboarding hill – and Ragged Riders snowsports club reached the pages of a magazine with readership across North America.
A recent edition of The Snowboarder's Journal explores Yellowknife's growing snowsports culture.
Club president Max Rossouw thinks the feature's title says it all: "A Hole in the Ground: Building Snowboard Culture in the Northwest Territories."
Rossouw told Cabin Radio: "We have been trying to build a culture here. It takes time, right? The kids love it though ... it's something new, something fresh. And be recognized in a magazine like that, it's huge."
Ragged Riders' Max Rossouw, left, Chris McGee, and Thomas De Bastiani with an edition The Snowboarder's Journal. Emelie Peacock/Cabin Radio
That the article features an image of NWT snowboarder Joel Dragon Smith, by photographer Kevin Klingbeil, is the icing on the cake for Chris McGee, who was Ragged Riders' park coordinator until he recently moved south to Calgary.
"Joel is a very, very good rider," McGee said. "It shows that people here can be capable of performing snowboarding at a really high level – that you can progress just by riding up here and putting in the effort."
Written by the magazine's managing editor, Ben Shanks Kindlon, the story takes readers through Bristol Pit's transformation. "Sledders and shredders alike would ignore 'No Trespassing' signs and hop the surrounding fence to slide the pit," Shanks Kindlon writes of the gravel pit's early days.
(Copies of The Snowboarder's Journal aren't readily available in Yellowknife. The club knows of two that made the journey. You can pick up a copy down south or by subscribing.)
Thomas De Bastiani, now Ragged Riders' treasurer, grew up sliding down the pit. By the early 2000s, before the Arctic Winter Games came to town, features began to appear at the site but were not regularly maintained.
"Then it turned into people just building jumps themselves for the whole season," Rossouw said. "I remember going out there for lunch when we were in high school. We would do that and then rip back to school."
A super bingo worth $75,000 was the catalyst for the pit's elevation into a genuine snowboard club. The funding brought in a lift, clubhouse, rental gear, and better features. Rossouw paid tribute to Steve Matthews and the Matthews family, who had the vision and skill set to establish the lift and grow the wider club.
Ragged Riders' Sendy Wednesdays contest made the spine of the magazine. Emelie Peacock/Cabin Radio
McGee chose to single out the young Yellowknifers who now enjoy the slope at minus-40 in the near-pitch dark of winter.
"The kids who ride at Bristol are some of the toughest snowboarders in North America. There's no hyperbole there," he said.
"We're almost in the Arctic Circle and we've got a shorter riding season than many other hills," said De Bastiani, adding that the climate requires significant work to maintain – or find more – snow. "We don't have the elevation and we're at a near-desert climate here," he said.
Despite the challenges, a committed group of riders comes out three times a week.
McGee, who sent out letters to snowboard magazines hoping to get a bite, said he wants to find more resources for people who ride the pit. Much of the club's work is volunteer-based, so Ragged Riders is always on the lookout for grants, prizes, and in-kind donations.
McGee hopes the club's future involves sending young athletes south to ride mountains, while continuing to develop Yellowknife's facility. Rossouw, picking up on that point, quipped: "We can turn it into a world-class hole in the ground."