Hay River, Fort Smith prepare to welcome Arctic competitors

Wednesday, October 25th, 2017 8:32pm


By Sam Laskaris
Windspeaker Contributor

The 2018 Arctic Winter Games are still almost five months away, but organizers are keeping busy with pre-competition details that need to be addressed.

The Games, held every two years, are scheduled for March 18 to March 24 in the South Slave Region of the Northwest Territories. The South Slave Region consists of seven communities. The two largest of these communities—Hay River and Fort Smith—will be the host locations for the sports that will be contested.

The Games, first held in 1970, feature teams representing the circumpolar north.  Nine participating squads will be taking part at next year’s Games, including five from Canada. Besides the host Northwest Territories entry, other teams will be representing northern Alberta, Nunavut, Yukon and Nunavik in Quebec.

Also taking part will be squads representing Alaska, Greenland, Russia’s Yamal region and the Sami people who are from Finland, Norway, Sweden and the Kola Peninsula of Russia.

About 1,900 athletes will be going to the two N.W.T. communities to compete in the Games. Hay River has a population of about 3,600 while Fort Smith has about 2,800 residents.

“We’re trying to show it can be done in these small communities,” said Greg Rowe, the president of the Games’ host society.

Hay River previously co-hosted the Arctic Winter Games back in 1978 with another then N.W.T. community called Pine Point. But the Pine Point community, which was built and served those who work at the Pine Point Mine, was abandoned shortly after the mine closed in 1988.

One of the obstacles organizers are facing for next year is that the two host communities are located about 270 kilometres apart.

“We’re up for the challenge,” Rowe said.

Athletes will compete in 19 different sports at the Arctic Winter Games. But they will only participate in either Hay River or Fort Smith. Those that will take part in activities in Fort Smith, however, will be bused to and from both the opening and closing ceremonies, which will be staged in Hay River.

The sports that will be contested in Hay River are Dene Games, dog mushing, biathlon ski, biathlon snowshoe, badminton, snowshoeing, futsal (a variation of indoor soccer), volleyball, hockey, wrestling and gymnastics.

Fort Smith venues will host Arctic Sports, cross-country skiing, basketball, curling, snowboarding, hockey, figure skating, speed skating and table tennis.

Hockey will be the only sport played in both communities.

The South Slave region was awarded the 2018 Arctic Winter Games back in the spring of 2015. A Games’ manager was hired last year. A total of 15 staff members are working on the Games now. More on-site co-ordinators will be hired as the Games approach. Organizers have also lined up several volunteers to lend a hand.

“We’re probably pushing the 500 mark,” Rowe said. “That’s less than the 1,500 to 2,000 volunteers we’ll need. But we haven’t gotten out our full campaign for volunteer recruitment yet.”

Rowe said organizers will soon be approaching former Games’ participants and their family members to help out. Officials are also counting on various area ranger patrol groups and members of youth ambassador programs to volunteer.

“When you start bringing in groups it can really help your volunteer numbers,” Rowe said.

Rowe is no stranger to the Arctic Winter Games. He won three figure skating medals at the 1976 Games. And then in 1984 he played for the gold-medal winning hockey team. Rowe also coached N.W.T. hockey teams at the 2000 and 2006 Games. His squad won the gold medal in its division in 2000.

About 340 athletes will represent the N.W.T. at next year’s Games.

“We want to do really well, being in our host territory,” said Doug Rentmeister, the chef de mission for the N.W.T. team. Rentmeister said N.W.T. athletes do traditionally fare well in certain sports.

“We always do really well in speed skating and some of the other individual sports,” he said. “And in team sports we seem to do well in hockey and in futsal. But it all really depends on who registers and who shows up to compete.”

Though N.W.T. officials would obviously like to see as many of their athletes as possible capture some hardware, that is not their only objective.

“We’re trying to get as many of our kids to experience the Games,” Rentmeister said. And next year’s Games will be even more significant for N.W.T. athletes since they will be the host team. Rentmeister added pride will be on display throughout the South Slave region.

“We’re always full of pride when we can host an event of this magnitude,” he said.