'Energy is over the top' for the first 2023 Arctic Winter Games since 2018
The largest international sporting event for people living in Arctic regions around the world is underway in Wood Buffalo, Alta.
This is the 26th Arctic Winter Games (AWG), held every two years since 1970. In 2020 the games were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The games bring athletes from northern countries to compete in sports including alpine skiing, archery, curling, figure skating, as well as Dene games including one-foot high kick, two-foot high kick, the finger pull, the snow snake, the hand games, and the knuckle hop.
"We have two categories, one is Arctic sports, and one is the Dene games," John Rodda, president of the AWG international committee told CTV's Your Morning on Friday.
Dene games are "unique to northern cultures," Rodda said.
They are tests of physical and mental skill that originated by the Dene, the northern Athabascan peoples. The games were used as practice for hunting and fishing seasons and to provide entertainment.
"These are actually all kind of rites of passage for northern youth in their cultures as they evolve from a youth to an adult," Rodda said. "Not many people know what they (games) are… And it brings a huge crowd to the venues. It's amazing to watch the excitement, the energy is over the top."
This year's competitors come from Alaska, Alberta North, Greenland, the Northwest Territories, Nunavik-Quebec, Nunavut, Yukon and Sapmi (the Arctic regions across Northway, Sweden and Finland). There are approximately 2,000 athletes.
"It almost just sucks you in because of the chanting in the background and the kids get so engaged in this. It's remarkable," Rodda said.
The games kicked off on Jan. 29 and will finish Feb. 4 in Wood Buffalo, the municipality that contains Fort McMurray in northern Alberta. The games were planned for Whitehorse in 2020, but were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year's competition is the first since 2018.
As of Thursday morning, Yukon is leading the total medal count with 31 gold, 28 silver, 26 bronze for a total of 85. Alaska has 83 medals total and Alberta North has 61.
In 1969, the governments of Alaska, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories created the games to showcase the athletic ability and unique sports of people who live in the Arctic. The first games were held in Yellowknife in 1970.