The ice sculptures popping up around the central Peninsula signal that the Peninsula Winter Games are almost here.
Local artists are creating 18 different sculptures at area businesses and ice slides at the Soldotna Sports Center, all of which should be done at the end of the week, just as the rest of the games get going.
The games kick off Friday with the opening of the Native Youth Olympics competition at Kenai Middle School and a Meet the Mushers event at the Soldotna Sports Center. Mushers in the Tustumena Sled Dog Race will be at the sports center from noon to 5 p.m. on Friday for vet checks. Organizer Tami Murray said the public is welcome to attend and see who is racing this year.
The Native Youth Olympics are also a big part of the games, and run all weekend. They start at 7 p.m. on Friday night with an opening ceremony. Four events are scheduled for that night -- the Scissor Board Jump, One Hand Reach, Kneel Jump and Seal Hop.
The Olympics will continue on Saturday and Sunday, with an opening performance scheduled for 9 a.m. each day, and events going on throughout the day. The closing ceremony at 4 p.m. on Sunday will feature unity drummers.
Douglas Gates with the Kenaitze Indian Tribe said that there will be a number of local teams competing, and there may also be participants from other communities. Gates said it's mostly teams from communities that can drive south, but teams have come from as far as Bethel in past years.
For kids wanting to participate in, not watch, events on Saturday, "We have the winter carnival going on at the sports center," said January Yeager from Soldotna's Chamber of Commerce.
There's a host of kids events planned, including an ice cream social from 1 to 3 p.m., a craft project, cookie decorating, face painting, a scavenger hunt, hay rides and more. The kids events run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. Lunch and dinner will be available for kids for free and for adults for $5. There's also a kids monopoly tournament, which kids should sign up for in advance by calling Yeager at 262-9814. That begins at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, but kids are asked to arrive earlier to check in and get ready.
And on Saturday night, the games will light up the sky. Fireworks are planned for 6:30 p.m. at the sports center.
Although the games are just beginning, some elements are almost done.
Yeager said the ice carving started on Tuesday. The Peninsula's team includes a handful of local chainsaw operators and artists. Yeager said they're all experienced carvers.
"They compete in ice carvings competitions all around the state," she said.
In Kenai and Soldotna, they're tasked with transforming blocks of ice that measure about 28 inches thick and four feet by eight feet into forms imagined by local businesses and organizations.
"The locations tell us what they want and then the carvers will go ahead and carve that," Yeager said.
The sculptures range from yearly standards -- like a plane at the Kenai Municipal Airport -- to creative adaptations of traditional sculptures -- like a polar bear texting on a smart phone at Alaska Communication Systems in Soldotna.
"There's just really, really interesting stuff," Yeager said.
She said that each business pays for the cost of the ice and carvers, and Soldotna Rotary extracts the ice from a local pond.
Jerry Near, one of the Rotary ice-extractors, has been part of the ice carving event for more than a decade. The first year, a group of Rotary guys went out to a lake, cut a block of ice and spent quite a while trying to figure out how to get it out.
Now it just takes a day to cut 50-60 blocks of ice, although this year things went slower, Near said.
"It's almost like a club social for us," he said.
The rotary cut 53 blocks, each weighing more than two tons, he said. But they did it at a gravel pit on Beaver Loop rather than the pond on Marathon Road, so it took longer to adjust to the new setting, he said. At one point, they ran out of ice in the plowed area, and had to plow a different section of the frozen pond.
"We lost our cadence, sort of," Near said.
But it still took just five or six guys with chainsaws and equipment, who enjoyed hot drinks, grilled hot dogs and burgers, and even a cold beer, while they worked.
"We just have fun doing it," Near said.
Molly Dischner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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