The sun swings slowly higher above the horizon, ticking down the time until the 2018 Arctic Winter Games begin. From March 18 to 24, athletes, coaches, delegates, spectators, and volunteers will gather in the South Slave region of the Northwest Territories for a week of athletic competition, cultural exhibition, and social exchange.
This year’s Games, co-hosted by the communities of Fort Smith and Hay River, will mark the 25th anniversary of the sporting event. What started out as a way for athletes from Alaska, the Yukon, and the Northwest Territories to compete on their own turf has grown into an international event that spans continents and crosses oceans. This year, athletes will be competing from nine contingents, including the Northwest Territories, the Yukon, Nunavut, Alaska, Alberta North, Nunavik, Sapmi, Yamal, and Greenland. These North of 55 teams who compete every two years in a new host city or town also bring cultural contingents to showcase their local talent.
Most sporting events have a history in the North, like Dene Games, Dog Mushing, Ski Biathlon, Snowshoe Biathlon, Arctic Sports, Hockey, Snowboarding, Curling, Snowshoeing, Cross-country Skiing, Speed Skating, and Figure Skating; but other events have been adopted from other areas, like Futsal, Volleyball, Wrestling, Table Tennis, Gymnastics, Basketball, and Badminton. As Fort Smith and Hay River’s populations hover around 2,500 and 3,500 respectively, the two small towns are co-hosting the Games so that they will still be able to offer all the usual sporting events.
While the smaller-than-normal host towns located a two-and-a-half-hour drive apart from each other have provided some unique logistical hurdles, everything has been falling into place as it always does in the end. This year’s theme, “Find Your Power,” is fitting, as the NWT and the international community come together to make the Games a reality.
While the 1,900 athletes and their team supports will spend the week divided between the communities in which their sports are being held, everyone will converge in Hay River for the Opening Ceremonies on March 18. As the Games are just as much about celebrating culture and making connections as they are about competing, it is important that everyone be together for the lighting of the torch as is tradition. Dene Drummers will sing, schoolchildren will jig, and with that, the Games will begin.
As the week progresses and snowflakes flutter down, athletes will receive special Ulu medals for their triumphs; while behind the podiums a different kind of flurry will be taking place as pins are traded—and at the end of the Games, contingent clothing will be traded too. While the Arctic Winter Games may be the elite sporting event of the North, camaraderie and tradition will abound beneath the Aurora as participants from across the circumpolar world bond over this exceptionally Northern experience.