It’s a weekend for the kids as the 38th annual Peninsula Winter games rolls into Soldotna today.
For some, it will be a weekend of spontaneous fun with ice-bowling, a bounce house, cookie decorating and a monopoly tournament to keep them busy. For others, this weekend’s Native Youth Olympics will be the culmination of months, sometimes years, of training to compete in ten ultra-athletic competitions including a seal hop, Eskimo stick pull and one-foot high kick.
“The games have been used as strengthening skills and hunting skills or strength and stamina,” said Michael Bernard, Yaghanen programs director for the Kenaitze Indian Tribe. “There were some, like the high kicks, that were as signals across the tundra a long way a way. You could signal ‘I need assistance to help carry game back to the village.’ There were no cell phones or VHF radios then.”
The tribe is hosting the regional Native Youth Olympics for a second year and Bernard said the same teams that competed last year will compete again this year including about 40 kids on the Kenaitze tribe’s Ggugguyni, or Raven, team. Others will be travelling from Seward, Ninilchik, Chickaloon and Wasilla. The Native Youth Olympics opening ceremony starts at 5:45 p.m. today at the Kenai Middle School gym.
While NYO and the Kenai Peninsula Hockey Association tournament start today and run through Sunday, the busiest afternoon will be Saturday when the winter games open from noon to 4 p.m. in the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
“There’s a little bit of a change this year with the weather being really warm,” said January Yeager, project coordinator for the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce. “We’re not actually going to be having the snowmachine rides and the kicksled races. It’s kind of hard to do kicksled races on the asphalt.”
However, inside the sports complex, kids can attend an ice cream social, a Monopoly tournament, a scavenger hunt called the “Amazing Race,” a cookie decorating activity and practice their archery.
Yeager said pine cone crafts, ice bowling and a bounce house would also be available.
“We also have the ice slide,” she said. “It just won’t be as big. It’ll just be really fast this year, it’ll be nice and slick.”
The winter games offer free noon and 4 p.m. meals for attendees and fireworks at 5:30 p.m. just outside of the sports complex.
The Peninsula Winter Games are designed to “get kids active in the winter time so you don’t have to get cabin fever and sit inside all winter,” Yeager said.
Last year, volunteers with the winter games saw at least 800 kids, she said.
The unseasonably warm weather is also threatening another Kenai Peninsula winter staple, the Tustumena 200 sled dog race — which is scheduled to begin Feb. 1.
Yeager said organizers of that race would make the call early next week on whether it was feasible.
Despite the weather, Yeager said she hoped the community would celebrate the weekend of free events.
“We really want to encourage people to come out and just enjoy the winter, celebrate winter with us,” she said.
Reach Rashah McChesney at firstname.lastname@example.org.