Ulukhaktok’s school is starting its first-ever ski team with an appeal for residents across the territory to unite lonely ski poles.
Bryan Stone, an avid skier, became Helen Kalvak Elihakvik School’s humanities teacher in September. His habit of skiing around the hamlet caught the attention of his students.
“I was pleasantly surprised that the roads aren’t sanded and salted here,” Stone said of Ulukhaktok. “When it snows, you can ski right on the street or follow snow machine trails.
“I started skiing all around and the kids were watching me and getting very excited. They kept on asking me, ‘Can I try? Can I try?’”
Stone distributed flyers at the school advertising the creation of a ski team. He got 27 responses from students in grades seven to 12.
The problem? Equipment.
Cross Country NWT sent 20 pairs of Yellowknife store Overlander Sports’ decommissioned rental skis and boots, while Aboriginal Sports Circle NWT is providing funding and support to acquire 24 pairs of skis, boots and poles.
Stone said he was “really, really impressed” with the help.
“The kids were excited about this, and I was obviously excited about the idea of starting a ski team – it’s been such a big part of my life,” he said. “Everybody I reached out to is jumping at the chance to help us out and has been so warm and welcoming. It’s pretty amazing.”
Stone hopes getting Ulukhaktok’s kids on skis will help their physical and mental health.
“Just like how it was a great experience for me, getting to ski around with my friends, I think it’ll be a great social opportunity for them,” he said.
“There’s just so much good to be had by a ski team: keeping their bodies healthy, their minds healthy, and their social life healthy, all at the same time. It’s more than you could possibly ask for.”
Pairing up poles
While the school now has enough skis, Ulukhaktok remains short on poles. To help out, Cross Country NWT spent the week leading up to Valentine’s Day launching a lonely ski pole matchmaking event.
Yellowknifers with solo poles – or full sets, if they have them – can donate the poles to Cross Country NWT, which will match up poles of similar lengths and ship them to Ulukhaktok.
Boots and waxless skis are also being accepted.
It’s an innovative way of trying to help equip the school amid a global equipment shortage, said Cross Country NWT president Shawne Kokelj.
“It’s been really challenging to get equipment this year for a variety of reasons – and that’s not just in Yellowknife,” Kokelj explained.
“Skiing has become very popular because it’s something a lot of people can do during the pandemic, but as well, there have been some supply shortages internationally, and so all the equipment locally has been purchased out.”
Stone is now figuring out how the school’s new ski team will operate. Many of the students will be on skis for the first time, and Covid-19 remains a consideration.
Nonetheless, Stone is pushing to get going “as soon as possible.”
“I am super excited to get started, to finally get these kids that have been so excited for so long on skis,” he said.
“They’ve been asking about it and wanting to ski for so long. Everybody is too excited about it. It’s fun.”