The sky was clear and blue, the temperature hanging right at freezing; it was a beautiful winter day for being outdoors, and many were there as part of celebrating the 34th annual Peninsula Winter Games on Saturday.
"You can't beat this weather," said Pam Beard of Funny River, who attended the Kids Carnival outside the Soldotna Sports Center on Saturday.
The carnival featured kick-sledding, hockey puck shooting, ice bowling, snowmachine rides, and a fast trip down a slide made entirely out of carved ice.
"There were a few good wipe-outs at the bottom," Beard said.
Sam Larsen of Soldotna said the ice slide was the favorite attraction for his two young children.
"They loved it," he said. "They did a little butt-bounce at the bottom, but they went right back up."
Larsen said his family returned this year to the Peninsula Winter Games festivities after they had so much fun attending last season.
"Our kids are little and there's a lot geared toward them," he said.
The ice slide wasn't the only thing made from frozen water on Saturday. Katie Falk of Sterling, and her 4-year old daughter, Ariel Hyler, enjoyed watching ice carvers use chainsaws to make sculptures for the ice carving competition.
"She thinks its going to be a skeleton, but I think it might be a bear," Falk said as ice chips and ice dust flew from an artist's blade.
"Its neat to see them transform from a block of ice into a work of art," she said. "I really like seeing them all around town, too."
The ice wasn't the only frozen festivities on Saturday. At the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank children were treated to sweet treats during an ice cream social.
"Dreyers donated 200 cups of ice cream," said food bank executive director Linda Swarner. "And we've been adding chocolate syrup and whipped cream on top."
Swarner said the event was a way to satisfy the sweet tooth of children, while also educating their parents to food bank programs and the "Building to Nourish" capital campaign to match a $395,000 grant received from the Rasmuson Foundation. The funding will provide much needed building improvements and allow the food bank to feed more hungry people.
While things remained cool outdoors, the competition heated up on the second day of the Native Youth Olympics in Kenai.
"This is our seventh year, and we just keep growing," said NYO organizer Amber Glenzel. "Typically we have five to seven teams, but this year we have 12 teams and more than 100 kids competing."
Glenzel said many of the competitors practice year-round for the competition, and will also take part in the World Eskimo Indian Olympics and the Arctic Winter Games later in the year.
She said this year's NYO games also incorporated more Dene events -- such as the Indian Stick Pull, Finger Pull and Pole Push, just to name a few of those traditionally common to Interior Alaska Indians -- since these events are part of the other larger competitions.
"Integrating them to NYO allows coordinators from Team Alaska to scout athletes for the Arctic Winter Games," Glenzel said.
All the events are based on individual skill, and many of the medal holders are the same athletes annually, but there are always a few newcomers who displace the seated record holders.
"You never know when you'll have a sleeper who will blow everyone away," she said.
One such newcomer this year was Justin Pena of Soldotna, who competed in the Seal Hop event. This event requires strength and endurance as competitors assume a push-up position, but use their knuckles rather than palms on the floor. They then move forward by hoping in the position, much like a seal.
"He's never gone as far as he did today," Glenzel said of Pena on Saturday. "He won the gold, and its not even one of his primary events."
As to how Pena pulled off his feat, he said it came down to a friendly wager with a friend.
"If I didn't make it to at least half court, I would have to paint my finger nails pink for the next day's events," he said. "I didn't want to do that, so I really pushed myself and made it almost full court."
While not a gold medal winner on Saturday, Caitlyn Tri of Kenai gets a lot more out of the NYO games according to her mother, Rose Carew.
"She's part Alaska Native," she said, " but she didn't know anything about that part of her culture before she got into this. Now she has books to learn Native words, she's in the dance group and she takes this pretty serious."
Tri practices her NYO events three nights a week with her team and her mother said she has even taken steps to practice in her off hours she loves it so much.
"She has a ball and string set up at home to practice the two-footed high kick," she said. "She's not into soccer or basketball, but she loves this."
The NYO competition continues today at Kenai Middle School.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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