Oil industry primary player in this year's Arctic Winter Games

Posted: Friday, March 05, 2004

FORT MCMURRAY, Alberta, Canada -- Residents in Fort McMurray have spent years preparing to host the 2004 Arctic Winter Games, and their efforts are coming to fruition this week.

But the work is just beginning for the Kenai Peninsula, where the 2006 Games will be held. A wide range of officials and delegates have spent the last week shadowing organizers in Fort McMurray, learning what it takes to put on a successful event -- and how to do it even better.

"It's been lots of work, lots of conversation, lots of trying to find out how they do things," Donna Peterson, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District superintendent, said earlier this week.

Peterson is chair of the 2006 care and comfort committee and will oversee everything from athlete and coach housing and meals to medical care to security for the 2006 Games. She said some of the details she looked into during her stay in Fort McMurray included accommodations for parents, security to transport the guns used in biathlon events and the huge number of meals that are served to participants during a Games event.

"The devil definitely is in the details," Peterson said. "We just keep asking all the questions."

Dean Hamburg, the school district's food services director and a committee member looking at food service for the 2006 Games, got a hands-on lesson in preparation for the Games. Last Saturday, he helped prepare about 1,000 pieces of toast and 300 portions of eggs for athlete breakfasts at a single location.


Oil-bearing sand is the bedrock of Alberta's economy and it provides a solid foundation for the 2004 Arctic Winter Games. Suncor Energy company announced this week a $3 billion expansion to it's facility near Fort McMurray.

Photo by M. SCOTT MOON

"They're doing about 2,000 meals a day," he said, explaining that part of his job will be to replicate that service on the peninsula in 2006.

Jennifer Beckmann, who runs the peninsula's Central Area Rural Transit System (CARTS) program, is chair of the 2006 transportation committee. She has spent the week examining how Fort McMurray organizers set up mass transit systems to move athletes, coaches and spectators from venue to venue in the spread-out community.

In Fort McMurray, large buses -- usually used to shuttle oil company workers from their homes to the plants north of town -- transport athletic teams from game to game and provide transportation on a scheduled route around town for spectators. The bus drivers are volunteers from the community.

Beckmann said she anticipates using Laidlaw buses in 2006 and bringing in some motor coaches for teams. She also said a motor pool of vans and smaller cars could be used for some transportation, such as on-call shuttles for special guests.

She said she's listened to some of the minor complaints people have lodged about transportation -- drivers who leave the scheduled route to accommodate passenger requests, a couple of slow-to-arrive rides for special guests, no-show customers and a handful of flaws in signs around town -- and now has a clearer picture of what to expect in 2006 and how to improve service.

"I think we're up for the challenge," Beckmann said. "After seeing what's gone on here, looking at some of the challenges they've had to face and learning from them -- I've learned what not to do -- I'm really excited."

Aud Walaszek of the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council is on the marketing committee for the 2006 Games. She spent part of the week studying efforts Fort McMurray planners made to promote the Games.

She said the unique aspects of Fort McMurray and Kenai Penin-sula communities will necessitate some different marketing strategies.

"They have a larger population and more mileage between other cities, so they didn't do much advertising to bring in tourism. We will," she said.

Of course, those tourists will have to have a reason for attending the Games, which is why several host society members also spent the week looking at the specific sporting events that make up the bulk of the Games.

John Harro, a member of the Tsalteshi Trails Association, is at the Games examining the various events that likely will be held on the trails behind Skyview High School. Among them are cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and ski and snowshoe biathlon competitions.

"We're looking at safety, particularly gun safety," Harro said. "We're thinking about how we're going to do this in Soldotna with gun safety in mind.

"We're looking at providing a course that is challenging and provides skiers and snowshoers with hills. We're looking at the angle of the sun, so we don't have the shooters blinded."

Overall, Harro said, the society is examining absolutely everything that goes into a successful Games event.

"It's going to take virtually everyone (in the community) volunteering in some capacity," he said.

But, he added, he thinks it's possible.

School district director of planning and operations Dave Spence agreed.

"This is going to involve a lot more participation by a lot more people," he said, noting that there's plenty of work to be done.

That's why the host society is starting work so soon.

"You think two years is quite a long ways out, but as you're planning and looking at all the details that pop up, two years is going to be a pretty short turnaround."

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