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'Rugged, ragged and tough': Yellowknife snowboard culture to be showcased in short film

A snowboarder completes a run at Yellowknife's Bristol Pit. The snowboarding pit is the subject of short film showcasing the hill's history and the people that keep it running. (Natalie Pressman/CBC - image credit)
A snowboarder completes a run at Yellowknife's Bristol Pit. The snowboarding pit is the subject of short film showcasing the hill's history and the people that keep it running. (Natalie Pressman/CBC - image credit)

Yellowknife's own Bristol Pit will soon be hitting the screen.

The former gravel-pit-turned-snowboard-hill is the subject of a short film showcasing the capital's scrappy, community-based snowboarding culture.

The 10-12 minute film is sponsored by outdoor clothing brand Arc'teryx and will eventually live on the brand's YouTube channel, but not before being premiered in Yellowknife. Filmmakers also say they hope to have the video aired at some festivals for a wider audience.

"It's such a novelty to have a pit, you know like a hole in the ground basically, turned into a snowboard park," said Steve Matthews, part of a team of Yellowknifers that first made opening the pit possible.

Matthews helped to install the tow rope that pulls riders from the bottom of the hill back to the top. Matthews said the pit first got its backing about a decade ago from a fundraising game of super bingo.

"We netted almost $100,000 and that allowed us to buy buildings and buy equipment and get the lift all up to speed and things like that," he said.

Now Bristol Pit is a training ground for Arctic Winter Games competitors, a learning facility for beginners, and a playground for Yellowknifers looking to hone their skills on features like jumps, rails and boxes.

Liam Upton has been involved in Bristol Pit since the start. He describes Yellowknife snowboard culture as 'rugged, ragged and tough.' (Natalie Pressman/CBC)

Liam Upton was on the board of directors the year Bristol Hill opened its gates and is now involved in the facility's operations.

"Yellowknife snowboard culture is rugged, ragged and tough," he said.

"The rope tow won't run past -30 C, but that doesn't usually stop people. We'll get people hiking the hill and the kids are out here even in -29 C.

"The pit is so close to my heart," he said.

For Scott Stirling, the operations manager at Bristol Pit, the facility is all about making the most of what's available — and he says he's excited for a film to bring Yellowknife snowboarding to light.

"I just think it's a real northern thing," he said, "just trying to make it happen anyway they can … it's not always easy but it's really worth it."

Seth Gillis is the film's director. He says that DIY attitude is what attracted him to Yellowknife's Bristol Pit to begin with.

"I live in Squamish [B.C], and Whistler Blackcomb is right there, and it's just such a scene and there's thousands of people every day and it's kind of mayhem, lift lines are super long — and then you come to Bristol Pit, it's such a breath of fresh air.

"It's like all you really need is a rope tow, a couple features and you can have a blast."

Director Seth Gillis and others in the film crew began filming in Yellowknife in January and plan to come back in March. (Submitted by Seth Gillis)

Gillis said the film should be done by the end of summer and he hopes to have a screening in Yellowknife by the fall.

Molly Milligan is a Yellowknifer who earned snowboarding sponsorships and competed in rail jam and slopestyle events internationally for over a decade.

Between grooming, building jumps and organizing lessons, Milligan says she's been impressed with how much time and energy goes into operating the hill.

"So to get that exposure at such a high level, I just think it's really special."

She says she hopes the film captures Yellowknife's landscape and the people that made Bristol Pit happen, and how unique snowboard culture is compared to other sports.

"It's all about just going and chilling with your friends, challenging each other, having fun, making games, like just, you're playing, you're totally playing on the hill," she said.