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Discovering a faraway land of fjords, polar bears and sled dogs via snowboard.
“Using your snowboard as a vehicle to explore and see the world in a different light is the true beauty of adventure and travel.”
Out there. That pretty much encapsulates snowboarding in Greenland.
When my friend and LLBean teammate Seth Wescott called me up in February to say we were going to Greenland to film with Warren Miller, it was difficult for me to imagine what kind of terrain we would ride or what kind of trip we would have. Together, Seth and I have been riding remote places around the world for nearly 20 years, but Greenland was so far off my radar I wasn’t sure what to expect. Polar bears? Inuits? Icebergs? Jagged, dragon-tooth mountains with endless couloirs and unlimited options? Yes, it was all of this and more.
My only previous reference to Greenland was watching the vast ice sheet pass by while flying to Europe. The view from 30,000 feet lends the impression that Greenland is basically a big, flat expanse of uninhabitable ice and snow, about as close to the planet Hoth as you can get while still being on Earth.
What we discovered when we finally landed on the tiny dirt airstrip that had once been part of a U.S. Air Force outpost on Kulusuk Island, located on the eastern coast of Greenland, was a place of incredible beauty, harsh and unyielding, with amazing mountains in every direction. It would take a lifetime to ride all of the lines that we saw on the plane ride in, and it felt like we had arrived to the next frontier of big mountain snowboard exploration, the way it must have felt to be in Alaska 25 years ago.
Situated near the airport was a small hunting village—a vibrant community of amazing people living on the edge of the habitable world, sustaining themselves primarily using dogsleds and boats to hunt for seal, fish and the occasional polar bear.
Their modest, plywood homes were painted in hues of red, blue and yellow, contrasting the unforgiving sea, standing at the ready to battle the incessant arctic wind and storms. It wasn’t planet Hoth, but it definitely felt like another world.
In our down time, Seth and I would walk around the village and imagine what it would feel like to live in this unique and isolated place. We saw happy villagers going about their day, kids jumping on trampolines in the backyard, while we marveled at the incredible views in all directions. It was spring time, so piles of snow from the countless winter storms were slowly melting away, revealing all that had been buried in the past months, including the occasional rotting seal (given to the sled dogs for food), broken toys and tools, and of course like most mountain towns, months and months worth of dog shit. Only here in Kulusuk there were more dogs than people. We counted more than 100 sled dogs chained up at random places throughout town, all of them happy and friendly and begging to be played with. Every now and then the entire pack would take to howling, and it was hard not to sing along with them.
With that many sled dogs, no one seemed to need any vehicles. The locals told us there were actually only two cars in the entire village. One was the van for the hotel we were staying at, and the other was a 1995 Isuzu Rodeo driven by the “mayor,” an older, white bearded gentleman who seemed to love driving back and forth past us whenever we would go out. Legend is that he surrounded his house with huge 12-foot-tall 80s era satellite dishes recycled from the old U.S. base so he could watch porn from Denmark.
Another legend we heard was about our local friend and sled dog guide Gideon, and how his daughter had been the first in the village to spot a polar bear wandering through their backyard. In Greenland it is quite an honor to spot a bear, and the hunters give the spotter a large share of the meat. As an added bonus, the villagers all congregated at Gideon’s house, laid out a ton of plastic tarps, and butchered up the bear right in his living room. Now that’s community building at its best!
All around the village impressive mountains rise 2,000 vertical feet straight out of the fjords that comprise the eastern coastline of Greenland. Their dark gneiss and granite walls reminded me of the Tetons, but with unreal green blue water fjords at their base dotted with huge icebergs. There must have been 10,000 perfect couloirs to ride, and Seth and I did our best to hit as many as we could during the week we were there.
I love snowboarding because it allows you to have experiences with new places you would never have in any other way. To actually be in those mountains, to feel their energy and create an intimate connection to a place by riding and interacting creatively with them—it is something I can’t get enough of. Using your snowboard as a vehicle to explore, open up new pathways in your brain, and see the world in a different light is the true beauty of adventure and travel.
One particular run that I will never forget is a couloir that towers above a pristine bay of emerald green water. The spring corn conditions allowed for both Seth and me to be on slope at the same time, and the cameraman gave us the go ahead to just rip the all the way to the water without stopping (instead of our usual stop-and-go program that is typical of snowboard filmmaking). We dropped in and rode the most perfect corn I have ever experienced as fast as we could go, arcing wall-to-wall turns down the 25-foot-wide, 40-degree slope for nearly 1,500 vertical feet.
We arrived at the bottom breathless. The perfectly calm water, with icebergs drifting about, was reflecting all the glory of the mountains and the sheer perfection of the run. At that moment we both felt true gratitude for a life spent standing sideways, and for it leading us to such a sacred place… way out there.
Rob Kingwill is an OG Jackson Hole snowboarder, local entrepreneur and advocate for adventure.