A qamutiik (Inuktitut: ᖃᒧᑏᒃ; alternate spellings qamutik (single sledge runner), komatik, Greenlandic: qamutit) is a sled designed to travel on snow and ice, built using traditional Inuit design knowledge. It is adapted to the arctic sea ice environment and is in common use today for travel in Arctic regions.
The key feature of the qamutiik is that it does not use nails or pins to hold the runners and cross pieces in place. Each piece is drilled and lashed providing a flexibility of movement that can endure the pounding of travel on open sea ice, frozen land, ice floes and across the heavy ice of tidal zones.
The cross pieces are called napooks. Each napook is notched near the ends to take a lashing which is passed through holes drilled through the runners. The first and last napooks are lashed individually to the runners using a more secure knot using two holes in the runners. For the central napooks, there is a single hole in the runner for each napook and all of the central napooks are lashed in one continuous lashing along each side. The method of lashing forms a self-locking knot. Today the napooks are ideally made of hardwoods such as oak or walnut.
Archival materials and the stories of elders show that areas without access to wood for runners used frozen fish wrapped in skins as runners. Moss and ice were used on the bottom of the runner to reduce drag. Today wooden runners are universal, using usually either spruce or plywood, typically with a layer of polyurethane or nylon to reduce drag.
Diaries and accounts from the 1800 and early 1900s tell of how British and American explorers, determined to use conventional sleds, found that the pounding of the sea-ice jolted and expelled the nails and that such sleds fell to pieces within several miles of their start point.
Qamutiik are used for diverse travel in the Arctic, from afternoon outings for families going sledding to multi-day hunting trips covering hundreds of miles of terrain. Most qamutiik have space for fuel cans, a camp stove and grub box, positioned for easy access, and to permit quick stops for tea and food. Other gear and belongings are lashed to the sled body, and passengers can either ride atop this load holding on to the lashing ropes, or, in the more modern versions, ride in the comfort of a "box" lashed to the sled, sometimes with a small windbreak or canvas cover.
The packing and lashing of a sled is an art. Weight must be carried low on the sled, to reduce the risk of tipping. Ingenious structures and materials are used to protect the passengers and hunters build small sleek versions to permit fast day trips.
The qamutiik can be hauled by a snowmobile, dog team or human. Sizes vary by function, and based on availability of materials.
- Watch Stories From Our Land 1.5: Family Making Sleds, a 2011 Nunavut short film on sled construction.