Kenai hosts Arctic Winter Games

More than 1,900 athletes, 2,700 volunteers and 6,000 fans have overtaken the Kenai Peninsula for the 2006 Arctic Winter Games. The games, which began March 5, last continue through March 12.

The winter games are the largest event to ever be held on the Kenai Peninsula. Seven circumpolar nations are represented at this year’s event, including the U.S., Russia, Canada, Finland, Norway, Greenland, and Denmark.

The games will close with an official ceremony held at the Soldotna Sports Center. The ceremony will showcase participating athletes and culminate with the lowering of the Arctic Winter Games International Committee flag, as well as the firing and extinguishing of the ceremonial cauldron.

The history of the Arctic Winter Games began in 1967 in Quebec City, Canada. The event was named the Canada Winter Games under the auspices of Stuart Hodgson and James Smith, then-commissioners of the Northwest and Yukon territories. The games soon expanded as the need to include more athletes became evident.

The commissioners then looked to their western neighbors for support. Former Alaska Governor Walter J. Hickel embraced the idea and collaborated to shape the Arctic Winter Games into what is has become an international event that brings the youth and cultures of many nations in the spirit of competition and friendship.

More than two years of planning went into preparing for this year’s Arctic Winter Games, which was projected to have a $5.3 million budget made up of cash and in-kind contributions; some of the money raised in conjunction with the event will fund legacy projects that will benefit the peninsula for years to come.

Communities throughout the Kenai Peninsula will be left with more than $4 million worth of infrastructure improvements _” such as Homer’s new ice rink _” long after the games are finished, according to an Arctic Winter Games press release April 3, 2005.

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Kenai Peninsula College, which is a fellow University of Alaska institution, played host to the 380 student-athletes from Alaska for the first evening meal offered to participants.

Gary Turner, KPC director, said nine buses filled with Alaskan student-athletes arrived in Soldotna at 8 p.m. on March 3. KPC received funds donated from UAA to order more than 100 pizzas for the dinner, and Coca-Cola donated soft drinks to wash down the pies.

Turner said the Arctic Winter Games provided grab bags for KPC to distribute to the student-athletes at the pizza feed. He said this would provide KPC an opportunity to distribute their program brochures, in each goody bag, to youth from all-over the State of Alaska.

The 2006 Arctic Winter Games events will take place on the Kenai Peninsula, except the alpine skiing and snowboarding competitions, which will be at Alyeska Ski Resort in Girdwood.