Yukoner hooked on kicksleds and sharing her passion with northerners
Anne Middler says the sleds have been shown to have a positive impact in rural communities
When Anne Middler was 32, she found a skateboard in a downtown Whitehorse shop that looked exactly like the one she bought with her paper route money when she was 10.
She got the skateboard and rode it for a couple of years until "I crashed and I was like, 'no, I will never skateboard again. People over 30 should not skateboard.'"
The decision left her feeling safer, but also sad.
Later that year, she was with one of her friends at Cragg Lake who suggested they go skiing.
"I don't actually enjoy skiing. I feel very vulnerable with all those sharp sticks attached to my body," said Middler.
But her friend insisted they go and told her she could hop on a kicksled, a traditional Scandinavian small sled that has a chair mounted on flexible metal runners and is propelled by kicking the ground, like a skateboard.
"And then I just hopped on to one of the runners and glided and then I just was absolutely hooked. I was like, 'oh, this is that feeling again, that skateboarding feeling,'" said Middler.
It changed her life. She had found something on which she could be active in the winter, it was stable and she knew she wasn't going to fall or crash.
Leap of faith
She says she spent as much time as she could on her kicksled and started amassing a fleet of them.
"I just really thought that if everyone had a kicksled, we would be a much happier and healthier northern place," she said.
She took a leap of faith and ordered 350 kicksleds from a manufacturer.
It was a tough go, at first, she said.
There was some buzz when she started selling them but it took a while for things to catch on.
"Like the first few years of business when I would sit in my little old garage downtown just being like, 'where are all the people? I know I'm not wrong," she said with a laugh.
She said she spent a lot of time at first creating opportunities for people to learn about the sleds.
And then, COVID-19 happened.
Never been busier
She says her Whitehorse business has never been busier. She says she's also the only retailer in North America that has any kicksleds and has been receiving up to 40 calls a day from across Canada and the U.S.
"And so I just actually stopped answering my phone because I'm not set up to ship. I just can't. I just won't do it. I'll ship to Atlin [B.C.] or I'll ship to Inuvik [N.W.T.], but I'm really just here for the Yukon market," she said.
She knows there's a business opportunity there she's not taking advantage of, but that's because that's not what she wants to do, she said.
She sees kicksleds as "an elegant tool" that has an impact on climate change mitigation and adaptation, health promotion and even suicide prevention.
She said she's seen it make a positive impact in rural communities in Yukon and she'd like to see that continue, especially for youth.
"The Carcross/Tagish First Nation bought a beautiful fleet for its school and the concept has been proved that this has an incredibly positive impact for young people in rural and remote communities," she said. A number of First Nations in Yukon have invested in a kicksled fleet.
She said the Recreation and Parks Association of the Yukon also bought a fleet of kicksleds and lends them out to community centres across the territory.
Kicksled Revolution says it's brought more than 1,000 kicksleds to Yukon, and that there are hundreds more on the way.
"It's actually just about it being fun and making you feel good in the time of year when a lot of people are struggling and feeling sad and lonely and dark and inactive," said Middler.
That's why she would like to figure out how to expand, but only in N.W.T. and Nunavut, so people in rural communities in those territories can benefit from the kicksleds too.
Middler says people have told her often that having a kicksled has changed their relationship to winter.
"And I'm always so grateful when people tell me that because I'm like, 'Ok, good. That's why that's why I'm doing this, because sometimes it's really hard to be in business.' ... But when I hear these stories of people and the difference that kick sled has made in their lives, I just think, yes, you know, I feel you."
- An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Anne Middler found her skateboard in Yellowknife.Jan 03, 2021 9:11 AM CT