Every four years the world turns its attention to a spot on the globe that gathers together the best winter athletes on the planet for a two-week extravaganza known as the Winter Olympics.
Although the Winter Olympics tend to play the role of red-headed stepchild to the Summer Games, particularly due to the sample size of events, athletes and participating countries, in my eyes, the competition and sheer abilities that the athletes demonstrate stack up against the best of their summer ilk.
The fortnight of fun kicks off in less than a week, but it got me thinking. What if Alaska had its own winter games? Or better yet, what if the Kenai Peninsula hosted its own games? What sort of events that are unique to our community would we see?
For one, Nordic skiing would still be just the same as it is at the real thing. The Tsalteshi Trails would obviously play a fantastic host to the cross-country ski events, with its winding corridors of snow that smoothly lead skiers on a roller coaster of ups and downs and sweeping turns. There would be the men’s and women’s classic/freestyle skiathlon, individual sprints, team relays, sprint relays, and of course, the mighty “King’s Race,” the 50-kilometer marathon for the men, and the 30K for the women.
Plus, it would give that old biathlon range the makeover that it deserves after years of sitting in neglect.
But beyond that, there are countless possibilities to pursue for events that are tailor-made for the peninsula.
Ski jumping is fine the way it is contested in the games, but ski jumping here in town? There’s no need to construct a jumping platform when we have a pair of swooping downhills that connect Kenai and Soldotna. The Kenai Spur Highway may currently serve more of a terror for Kenai River Marathon runners, but shovel on the snow, slick down the runways and watch as hill intervals take on a whole new meaning.
And instead of the luge, how about taking a short drive to the Skyline trailhead near Cooper Landing for some high-speed fun? Setup costs would be minimal since the uphill climb becomes a natural couloir in the winter, when even Kahtoola microspikes struggle to grip its icy surface. How fast can a luge, bobsleigh or skeleton sled whip down that trail?
Hockey would have to be included the way it is in the real Olympics, but instead of the Olympic-size ice sheet at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex, why not add a little hometown charm to the occasion and hold games at a variety of venues around town, like ARC and Headquarters lake, or even tiny Daubenspeck in Kenai? Can you imagine world-class skaters flying around that pocket-size piece of ice? Like drifting a Hummer around your living room.
Curling would be officiated much the same way, but instead of curling stones, why not send frozen kings down the ice, as a gesture to the traditional fish toss used to celebrate the first Kenai River Brown Bears goal in North American Hockey League games? Since Team USA is the home team, they get to use kings, while the competitors must use cohos, rainbow trout, sockeye and Dolly Varden to make their runs.
Speed skating has a perfect venue set up for it. Skilak Lake. Such a wide open expanse of pristine, uninterrupted ice that speed skaters can hurdle around at obscene speeds. The natural beauty of the mountains surrounding Skilak would create an A-plus experience for the crowd.
As popular as figure skating is in America, what I would want to see judged are the eloquent stunts that local snowmachiners can pull off with their Skidoos, Polarises, Arctic Cats and Yamahas. Let’s bring that backcountry adventure onto center stage.
By the way, a Kenai Peninsula Winter Olympic Games would not be complete without a dog-sledding event. May I suggest the Tustumena 200? It just fits so perfectly.
And at the end of the two weeks, the visiting teams would be sent off with a package of smoked salmon, a pair of Carhartts and a case of their beer of choice from the Kenai River, St. Elias or Kassik’s breweries.
Citius, Altius, Fortius!