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  • Team Sapmi

    Team Sápmi promotes culture through sports - Misty Gilland The Sámi celebrate sports as part of culture; witness their events of reindeer racing, lasso kasting, and cross country skiing. The purpose of the Sámi Sports Association, Sámi Valáštallan Lihttu, is “to promote Sámi traditions, cultural interaction, and friendship through sport.” Sápmi is the name for the traditional territory in which the Sámi people live.  Sápmi land spreads across the northern parts of Sweden, Norway, Finland, and the Kola Peninsula of Russia. Within that area are 50,000 to 100,000 Sámi people, speaking as many as nine distinct dialects. The Sámi lived on the land long before European national boundaries were established, and are governed by their own elected parliaments that act nationally and across national borders. They came together in 2000 to form a Sámi Parliamentary Council which serves as a joint council for the people. Team Sápmi is participating in two sports at the Arctic Winter Games 2024: cross country ski and futsal. The Sápmi ski team spent a year preparing for the 2024 Arctic Winter Games, choosing eighteen skiers and nineteen futsal players. Most of the skiers were selected based on results from the Sámi Skiing Championships held in Guovdageaidnu (Kautokeino) Norway.  Sámi youth have come to compete, but also to strengthen the unity of and pride in the Sámi culture and to network with other northern cultures. Be sure to ask the players and fans about their heritage and homeland. Just do not ask about how many reindeer they may own - It is considered very rude. Good Luck Team Sápmi! Information in this article was sourced from the following websites: Aslak. (2023, November 28). AWG skiløpere er utpekt. SVL. Cleaver, K. (2023, February 28). The fast and furious world of reindeer racing. The Spectator. CONIFA. (2022, January 21). SAPMI | CONIFA. IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs. (2023, March 24). Sápmi - IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs. SVL. (2023, March 24). Arctic Winter Games - SVL. SVL. (n.d.). Sámi Valástallan Lihttu Archives - SVL.

  • Team Nunavik Finds Their Power at AWG

    Team Nunavik arrived at the Mat-Su Arctic Winter Games from villages within the Northern parts of the Quebec Territory in Canada. Team Nunavik consists of 54 athletes and 6 cultural performers and supported by 11 coaches, two cultural managers, and eight mission staff. Team Nunavik can be recognized by their lime green jackets and black pants.  Their flag is from Quebec Province. (Nunavik Territory’s flag is similar to Quebec’s flag except with a stylized fleurs-de-lis.) On the website, Nunavik Team writes that the sentiment of cultural pride is also felt by many community members.  A video shows community members cheering on the team and reminding them to take pride in who they are, where they come from, and their cultural heritage. “You are part of a big family, so be proud of it.  You are not only representing yourself, but you're representing your family, your community, and your region…Team Nunavik FIND YOUR POWER!“ According to the team’s website, “...Team Nunavik–Québec has been growing stronger and stronger, both in terms of athletic performance as well as organization…Athletes that become part of Team Nunavik–Québec are selected based on athletic performance, good sportsmanship and leadership qualities.” The Nunavik region has been participating in the Arctic Winter Games since 1972. This year's games are the team’s 16th Arctic Winter Games. The Nunavik team likes to share their culture and competitive spirit.  Team Nunavik has participants in the cultural performances, the Dene Games and other AWG sports. The team wants to have fun and to do their best in the competitions. So far in the 2024 Mat-Su Arctic Winter Games, the team has earned 23 medals, six gold, 10 silver and seven bronze. Nunavik means the Great Land in the local dialect Inuktitut.  It is the homeland of the Inuit of Quebec. The region is the northern half of the Nord-du-Québec region and includes all the territory north of the 55th parallel. It is an extremely large and sparsely populated region with only 14 villages. There are no road links between Nunavik and southern Quebec. Fans are invited to show their team support and to send messages of encouragement on social media: @TeamNunaviukQuebec.

  • Rising Strong with Arctic Culture

    In Arctic cultures people lift each other up to achieve excellence. The culture supports each other to be the best that they can be. There is a culture of unity. Ultimately, it is not the winning where the true joy is to be found, but in the camaraderie. The Arctic Winter Games exemplify this northern people’s culture day in and day out. It is evidenced daily by the athletes, the coaches, the officials, the families, the friends and interactions between competitors. On the edges of the courts, athletes who are at the top of their game cheer for and advise both teammates and opponents. Team Alaska Coltan Paul competed in the Two Foot High Kick. Coltan was just shy of his target. He went back to the sidelines and his competitor, Team Alaska Parker Kenick gave him some advice and new perspective on his technique. On the next run-up, Coltan jumps off and hits the target landing squarely on both feet. Next up was Parker Kenick. He motioned to the crowd to help lead him into the jump. The stomping of the bleachers, the quickening clapping of hundreds of hands, and the Clarion call of the bearded seal prompted Kenick's feet to start to move. He leaped toward the sky, feet outstretched and made contact. The aluminum pole went up two more inches. The kick was now eight feet six inches. Coltan Paul hit the target and stuck the landing. Parker was not as fortunate. So, this time it was Coltan Paul who from the sidelines encouraged his competition. Even if it meant that Parker might blast past him, Coltan was not really competing against Parker, but rather they were both rising together. Kenick gave it all he had and still fell just shy of his mark. In the end it was Coltan Paul who took the gold ulu home. It was after the event was over that the culture of rising together shined  Parker continued to try and make the six foot eight inch kick. The announcer gave advice. And Parker tried again and missed.  Then an experienced two foot high kicker athlete was called out of the crowd. He coached Parker now. Never giving up and surrounded by support, Parker succeeded in making contact at eight feet six inches. Unofficially in one sense. Officially though, a champion of sportsmanship and resilience. It can be emotionally moving to witness this culture of "we," that comes out of the Arctic lands. It is uplifting to witness this attitude of inclusiveness and support. Mat-Su Arctic Winter Games Rising Strong Together

  • A Tale of Ten Chickadees

    Palmer has been abuzz all week with the energy of youthful athletes, supportive parents and coaches, and dedicated volunteers. For many of the spectators and special guests, their first glimpse into the Arctic Winter Games began with ten adorable chickadees flitting about the arena as the audience took their seats for the Opening Ceremony. The perfectly round black heads pecked at balloons, amused onlookers, and joined in playful choreography. They could have been mistaken for real chickadees save for their teal, blue, fuchsia and acid green feathers—a lovely nod to the colors of the games. The black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) is the official animal ambassador of the 2024 Mat-Su Arctic Winter Games. Despite its diminutive size, this feathered explorer embodies the very essence of courage and curiosity— a perfect representation of the talented athletes competing this week. Chickadees thrive in the Matsu Valley year round and their distinctive chickadee-dee-dee call makes their presence known, but it is their heeeyyy, sweetie song that reminds us all that spring is just around the corner. I had the privilege of interviewing Bea Adler—one of the designers behind the delightful chickadee costumes—during a dress rehearsal before the games. She is a long-time Palmer-area resident and was nominated by local admirers over a year ago to design and make the costumes for the animal ambassadors. Bea and her co-designer Linda Lockhart have been brainstorming ideas, drafting designs, and sourcing materials for the costumes since February 2023. “We got together and discovered that our drawings were almost identical. We were both thinking about crinolines and those big Civil War era skirts with the cages that held the skirt out. We thought that might make a nice, big, round bird body.” Bea then pulled in another talented local costumer, Colleen Wake, to complete the fabrication. They worked on the costumes throughout the summer. Bea revealed that the most challenging part about making the costumes was finding the right material for the structure. “Linda and I tried multiple materials. We even got those little umbrellas that you can put on your dish of food on the picnic table to keep bees and flies away. We kept thinking it had to be light. It couldn’t make the costume hot…it had to be easy for a child to wear. So, the hardest part was finding the material.” Bea has a habit of walking through hardware stores for inspiration. “The breakthrough really was wandering through the hardware store one day, I saw—in their trash bin—this green-colored, plastic, strapping material that was flexible yet stiff. It’s designed to strap around a load of lumber that gets loaded on railcars. With their permission, I collected a lot of it.” The hardware store employees were very friendly and helpful: “Every time I would show up, they would go and get this one woman who knew where everything had been put and she helped me get it together.” Hot glue was not strong enough for the material, so the costumes are held together with metal rivets. There is a harness that goes over the shoulders and is adjustable with velcro. The covers are blankets from Costco. “The wings! They are something that Colleen focused on: cutting out thousands of feathers from an assortment of different materials. The colors of the Arctic Winter Games are incorporated into the tails and into the wings.” The heads are built on child sized bike helmets with see through fabric draped over the face. After asking Bea if she is a seamstress by trade, she shared, “I supported myself through college as a custom dress maker in New York City. I’ve been doing theater costumes since high school. My first job in Alaska after arriving in 1981 was in the costume shop at the Anchorage Opera.” Telsche Overby—Arts and Culture Program Coordinator—contacted Mat Valley Dance Studio owner Lindsey Redmond about sourcing some tiny dancers to perform in the costumes. The dancers excitedly (and a bit nervously) took to the stage for 15 minutes before the Opening Ceremony. Everyone agrees: they are just SO CUTE! What was the most fun part of it all for Bea? “Seeing them actually on someone! It was good because it was collaborative—knowing that you’re not the only one working on something…the collaborative effort is really so important. Then we actually got to see it on someone—because up until then I was using a dress dummy.” “I am just so excited that I got to be part of [The Arctic Winter Games] and to do this collaboratively. What a great community effort this is!” Keep an eye out for the playful chickadees return at this Friday’s two Cultural Galas as well as Saturday’s Closing Ceremony.

  • The Village Mayors

    While many of us are out basking in the sun watching Alpine Ski, Snowshoe, and other events, a dedicated group of people are making sure everything is running smoothly at the Participant Villages. There are six Participant Villages – at Palmer, Wasilla, and Colony middle and high schools. Each has its own “Mayor”. “My wife and I have been involved with the Arctic Winter Games for two years,” said Cory Smith, Mayor of the village at Palmer Junior Middle School. “We chose to help out as Mayors at this school because we know the layout.  We had four kids go through this school, and my wife worked here.” He is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS). “We have six congregations in Palmer and eight in Wasilla. When the call went out for volunteers to set up beds, we knew we could do it with all our congregations.” They were able to supply 600 people to help set them up, and they’ll be taking them down this weekend. “Mostly we try to get answers to everyone,” he said. This was demonstrated as he helped two participants with getting the bus to the winter carnival, another that needed a key, and received information on whether plumbing was fixed in a shower – or not. “And I would like to give a big thank you to all the people volunteering their time and talent. Arctic Winter Games could never have done this without every volunteer." Over at the Palmer High School Participant Village, Tonya Loyer and Leslie Norris were manning the Mayor’s office. The big office windows looked out at two big posters of the bus routes available to the participants to get around. “We’re the point of contact,” said Tonya. “And the Door Dash stop.” They also hold the key to rooms. Rooms may have up to eight people, but there is only one key. “So we need to go with the person to open the room.” The two of them man the mid-day shift from 11 am to 5 pm. A husband and wife team take the morning shift from 5:30 am to 11:30 am, and another volunteer takes the night shift from 4:30 to 11 pm. Curfew for participants is 11 pm. “We’ve got feedback about how well everything is run,” said Tonya. “Although we did get a complaint that the bus actually left right on time,” chimed in Leslie, “it wasn’t even one minute late.” If you are going to Palmer High to watch futsal, or to one of the other Participant Villages where events are held, take a moment to say “thanks” to the Mayors.

  • Team Alaska Gets the Gold!

    They swarmed around the rink, rocketing dozens of rubber pucks against the glass. We could feel their energy, swinging to the same beat of the overhead loudspeakers, cheering on our favorite players who we hoped would be champions in tonight’s male hockey finals between Team Alaska and the Northwest Territories. Almost superhuman, they slide to the center.  The first slapshot strikes the goalie, sending families, friends, and visitors into a symphony of applause. A scattered cluster slams against a corner, a helpless puck beneath their blades.  Their sticks cross, slashing mercilessly at each other’s feet.  They break free, gliding to the opposite side, Team Northwest Territories’ protected goal.  It’s a score for Team Alaska! They chase the puck from one end to the next as if it has a mind of its own.  Another slapshot into the goal!  The referees convene in a sudden silence as the ice clears of players, and they wait to hear the final verdict for the shot.  Heroically, the announcer booms, “It’s another goal for Team Alaska!” Alaska’s fans leap in excitement as a blue-jacketed fan runs down the first row of the stadium, waving Alaska’s flag with pride and joy. The rest of the first period is a mad rush of encounters.  They slam, slide, and slapshot at every move.  From the balcony, it sounds like bullwhips crackling below.  From the lowest front row seats, they are more like the popping of a small caliber rifle. The crowd screamed with the announcer’s booming voice, leading off the second period.  The score is already 4 to 0, a score that holds throughout the period. Coasting back to the center of the ring, then fanning out to Team Alaska’s home goalie, the Northwest Territories strike their first goal! Bursting into action, it’s a warzone of players, a race with every inch of their strength. Team Alaska sweeps the puck away from the Northwest Territories, hurling it into the goal.  Another point!  It was hard-fought through many penalties, through scrambling and scuffling and any number of aggressive scraps to change the odds for NWT, but here they shoot their shot and strike a fair point. NWT fires back into action, speeding ahead to defend their goal.  It’s well-defended, but a player for the blue and gold sweeps another slapshot into the net.  “Team Alaska Goals!  They never die!” bellows an elated announcer.  An aroused audience erupts with a rolling chant for Team Alaska! Players stare each other down after a penalty.  The puck rolls carelessly into the clutches of an NWT player.  His slapshot sends it flying at the goalie for Alaska.  He saves it with a quick reaction, locking his left knee to the ice, sending it skittering back at the Northwest players.  The period ends a score of 6 to 1, one period closer to victory! Someone blares a horn at the start.  Northwest Territories has the puck—they swing and miss by a hair!  They make the attempt again and again, hewing chunks of ice from the ring, but to no avail.  Alaska surrounds them, chucking the puck away. It's an attack and retreat for Team Alaska, swift and effective.  NWT encircles, now swarms in, now fights for life!  Alaska nearly scores, but NWT is aggressive.  They are battling for their ground. Players clash in arm locks.  It’s a shuffle back to the goal, and to another penalty. In front, behind, and around the Northwest goal, Team Alaska fires another shot.  Another goal! 3 minutes away from the end of the game is a chaotic scramble after the puck.  Another score for Team Alaska happens in a flash to the amazement of her fans!  The countdown strikes.  Team Alaska clearly wins, leaving a rink littered with gloves and helmets among their surrendered hockey-sticks. We turn to the flag of our nation.  Team Alaska hums the old melody, “Oh, say, can you see?”  We turn to these athletes now.  Oh, say, can you see our champions?  Sons, grandsons, brothers, and friends?  We see heroes in the making as they have gold medals hung around their necks.  Turning to the Northwest Territories, we see tomorrow’s champions, silver medalists after a well-played game.

  • Northwest Territory Aces Basketball!

    “Let the coaches coach, let the players play, and let the audience stay positive!”  The announcer’s gravelly voice boomed across the court, signaling the start of Wednesday’s female basketball game featuring Team Alaska vs. the Northwest Territories. The event led off with the cheering and chanting of the Northwest fans. The score for NWT doubled, then tripled to a score of 18. Team Alaska squeaked its way to a struggling score of six. The chanting in the stands dwindled until Alaska had its first free-throw of the period. Silent, they watched in hopeful anticipation, slowly breaking into a raucous drumroll. The Northwest Territory Team raised the score again, but two shots on a free throw earned two points for Alaska, a point to a shot! Both teams huddled together at the sound of the buzzer to pour cool water down their throats. Then back to the center, leaping ahead to the rest of the game. Cheers and whistles greeted the end of the first period.  Hearty applause and feet drumming marked the second, saluting a powerful shot for Team Alaska! Knees bent, elbows out, she made her shot.  A score!  Three points clicked away for her team. But they would need much more to win. Towards the middle of the game, fans were struck by the emotional upheaval of pauses in play, standing in stark contrast with sudden bursts of energy from the players. Wild with energy, they finished the period, still light on their feet, ready for more. It was now 40 to 26.  Back at it again! It’s a frenzy towards victory. Offense is pitted against defense to the left and to the right.  We bubbled with excitement while Team Alaska regained its score, 20 points behind, but playing well & playing hard. The heat intensified. Chants for the Northwest Territories quickened, faster, faster, as the score of 59 overshadowed Team Alaska’s hard-fought 34.  A graceful shot through the hoop raised the score again for Northwest, now to 62.  A shot from the side hurls them on to 65! Straining ahead, red in their faces with aching feet and tousled braids, Team Alaska persevered. NWT secured the win at 73 to 39.  Both teams finished strong and can be proud of their hard work.

  • Incredible Talents Shown at Figure Skating

    Although the temperature outside is barely cold enough to keep ice frozen, inside the Mac Center the ice is perfect and ready for the free skate competitions. With spins and jumps, skaters show off impressive skills. They also show incredible sportsmanship on and off the ice. When an athlete took an unintentional tumble, the audience encouraged them to get up and endure, and they were quick to recover. Their compatriots cheered them on at every twist and turn. In the Level 1 competition, 13-year-old Solenn Kikoak from the Northwest Territories skated with style to “Pretty Baby, I need you baby”. Fifteen-year-old Aidyn Lewis from Alaska was clearly a crowd favorite, not only for her skating but for her work raising over $1,000 for Scott Hamilton Cares outreach for cancer research by selling cupcakes. As impressive as these two were, sadly neither placed in the top three. Alexis Robinson and Mya Hussey, both 13 from Team Alberta North, took first and second; Alexis also earned gold in the Short Program. Laura Ruiz, 12, earned her place on the podium and the bronze ulu to take back to Team Yukon. The Level 2 competition had even more impressive stunts. Fewer teams were represented at this level. Some of the favorites for this round were 14 year old Niobe Clinton from Northwest Territories, 15 year old Madisyn Millar of Yukon, and 14 year old Iyla Wagner of Alberta North. But it was Elyssa McLellan, 15, and Iyla Wagner, 14, of Alberta North who earned gold and silver, and Ruby Shyne Kim of Alaska, one of the youngest figure skaters at 11, took bronze. All three medaled in the same positions yesterday in the Short Program. As a fun fact, Elyssa McLellan wants to become a Sports Psychologist as her future career. For the Level 3 competition, the routines really ramped up. Competitors showed off their combination spins with more command of the ice. There were only three skaters at this level, but all three had been skating for nearly their entire lives. Julianne Howse from Alberta North started skating at the age of 3 in Newfoundland. Kaley Boucher, 17 of Alberta North, blew the other two out of the water to reach the top of the podium. Miah Reid Harris, 16 of the Northwest Territories earned the silver ulu, and Julianne Howse, 17, ended this round of the Figure Skating Competition with bronze. Finally, the Level 4 competition showcased the hard work and determination of four more amazing athletes. The talent of these young women, with their dizzying spins and speed, is incredible to behold. Lily Brennan, 16, took home another gold ulu for the Northwest Territories. Kaitlyn Joseph, 14 from Anchorage, has been skating for just four years and reached the second step on the podium. Finally, Gwendolynn Cheney, 16 from Eagle River, earned bronze on her home ice rink. As youth leaders in their homelands, many of these amazing young ladies teach and coach younger and less experienced skaters. Given the time they need to dedicate to training and studies, it is truly inspiring that they also take the time to give back in this area they love. Each of the competitors worked incredibly hard and tried their best. Congratulations to them all.

  • Team Alaska Dominates in U18 Semi-finals Hockey at the 2024 Arctic Winter Games

    With the sun gleaming off Pioneer Peak the Talkeetna mountains, the U18 Semi-Final Matchup between Team Alaska and Team Nunavut was ready to kick off. As the song Legend by The Scored blasted through the arena, players took to the ice to the greeting of flying flags, clanging cow bells, and rowdy cheers from fans all showing their team spirit. Talking with one Nunavut fan, she shared, “I’m very nervous but excited. It is a big game– I hope they play well and win.” As we wrapped up our conversation, she added “Go Team Nunavut!” Nunavut dominated early from the drop of the puck with six shots on goal to no shots for Alaska in the first four minutes of action. With 10:23 left in the first period Nunavut scored the first goal of the game on a powerplay goal from Kam Kaludjak. Not to be outdone, Team Alaska scored less than a minute later to tie the game 1-1 with a shorthanded goal by Logan Mese. Alaska grabbed the lead with 7:31 left in the first period off a breakaway that found the back of the net. As the scoreboard buzzed to mark the end of the first period, Alaska led Nunavut 2-1, but Nunavut led the shots on goal 12 to 8. As the second period began AC/DC’s TNT blared over the speakers as fans gathered to cheer their teams on. Team Alaska was on the powerplay to start the second period, but were unable to capitalize. Alaska started gaining momentum halfway through the second, firing shot after shot on the Nunavut goalie who did everything but stand on his head to keep the puck out of the net. At 11:56 of the second period, Team Alaska scored on a beautiful breakaway from Logan Mese. Elijah Von Guten scored the final goal of the second with 4:46 left on the clock, off a rebound and Alaska started to pull away 4-1. Alaska led 4-1 when the buzzer sounded to mark the end of the 2nd. Guns N’ Roses Sweet Child of Mine ushered in the third period and the skaters hit the ice. Nunavut was determined to erase the three-goal deficit. WIth 10:12 seconds left in the third Jeremy Madrowski scored bringing the lead to two goals for Alaska 4-2. Nunavut fans jumped to their feet with cow bells ringing out, giving hope for a comeback. Alaska scored moments later, widening the gap to 5-2 on a hat trick goal for Logan Mese goal. Team Nunavut skated hard and threw pucks at the net, but Alaska scored with 7:50 left in the third off a two-on-one opportunity from Daniel Matveev for the final goal of the game. The final score was 6-2 in favor of Alaska. Team Alaska will face the winner of this evening's game in the gold medal faceoff at 6:30pm tomorrow evening at the Curtis Menard Ice Arena.

  • The Highs Of Arctic Gymnastics

    Like the Arctic tundra in the summertime, the padded gymnastics floor cushioned each step, hop, and tumble of the gymnasts for the final round of competition on Wednesday morning. Gazing around the event center, a novice viewer might not know where to focus their attention. Rings dangle from the ceiling. Open foam pits reveal safety practices for aerial moves. Four heights of balance beams are parallel from shortest to tallest. The final gymnastics competition on Wednesday included four events: vault, floor, balance beam, and uneven bars. Two of the four competition events took place simultaneously, with events alternating back and forth. The Master of Ceremonies read off the names of the athletes prior to their event. Vaulting unfolds at the same time as uneven bars, and the floor routines go on at the same time as the balance beam routines. Artistry and athleticism become one in gymnastics. The same athlete who grimaces and sprints as fast as she can toward the vault, aiming for ultimate speed and height off the table, is also required to exhibit an artistic flair with grace and poise on the floor or balance beam. Straight legs, pointed toes, strength, balance, and personal grit are demonstrated in each event. Something as mundane as teetering on the balance beam was reborn. The girls on the Northwest Territories team added grace with a press-up at the mid-beam, with their legs extended in midair splits, and then raised above their torso and balance beam in a handstand. Every dismount from an event was clear. Whenever athletes achieved a strong performance, their teammates raced to them with hugs and congratulations. Competitors must also learn to navigate the bumbles, like taking a step after trying to make a perfect landing – a goal for every event. Athletes on all four teams demonstrated remarkable poise and focus, powering past small mistakes to achieve a powerful finish. Each athlete received hoots and personal shouts of encouragement by name from athletes from each of the four competing teams. Ainslie Coburn from the Alberta North team said, “Hearing the cheers from the other athletes really makes you feel supported!”. Coburn’s favorite event to do is the uneven bars, which must be adjusted for each athlete according to their height. “Bars can be scary, but it’s very fun and I like to learn new skills.”, she said. The Alberta North team took gold on Wednesday. Most of the team members are veterans to gymnastics, with some starting the sport as young as five years old. Lola Martin and Maeva Layag-Turbide’s favorite event is the floor. Both girls love to show off their dance moves and learn new skills. When asked how the Arctic Winter Games might be different than other competitions in which she has participated, Katelyn Siebert told the Ulu News on Wednesday “It's an awesome opportunity, representing our province and competing against other top athletes who are selected for the games.” Ainslie Coburn stuck the landing with her final comment, “All the other teams did super good and should be proud of their performance!”

  • Musk Ox Farm

    Musk Ox Farm Surprises and Delights Skeptical Teenagers For the bright young athletes of Northwest Territories, an up-close interaction with an ornery Musk Ox didn’t seem like the most fun thing to do today, but at the insistence of Coach Chuck, the team shuffled onto the big tour bus headed for Palmer’s Musk Ox Farm for a tour on Wednesday morning. Now, if you’ve ever been a teenager, parented one, or otherwise been on the receiving end of a dubious eye-roll when suggesting, well, anything, it turns out modern teenagers–even the ones who hail from icy remote villages above the 55th parallel– still bear healthy skepticism when it comes to educational field trips that their adult handlers insist will be “fun.” Between the promise of a super special Musk Ox Farm trading pin and the persistent encouragement of their coaches, the teen athletes of Northwest Territories reluctantly agreed to suspend the deep sighs and eye-rolls to learn more about these giant Arctic creatures, and in record time, all signs pointed to the entire team genuinely enjoying themselves. Dani Biersteker, Education Director and wildlife biology expert, led the tour with positive energy and approachable humor from the start, and the momentarily reticent teens quickly revealed excited curiosity. How do you comb their hair? Do their horns change color? What do they eat? How old is that one? Did they do that to the fences!? Peppered with earnest and thoughtful questions, Biersteker launched into her zone of genius and answered every single one, encouraging everyone to get close, but not too close. Certain members of the herd are more socially inquisitive than others, like playful Fenugreek (m) and herd sweetheart Acadia (f), but they’re not exactly looking to snuggle. Don’t let their soft hair and adorable fuzzy noses fool you– these animals are still strong, wild creatures who prefer to make their own independent life choices sans unsolicited input or interference from humans.The musk oxen on this non-profit farm in Palmer, Alaska may hang out on pastures surrounded by secure enclosures, but they’re hardly domesticated, as the deep dents in the side of the white feed truck will attest to. Musk oxen are native to the tundra, and both males and females aren’t afraid to knock noggins and bluff charge to assert dominance. According to the Smithsonian Institution, researchers have fossil evidence proving that Musk Oxen have inhabited the circumpolar north for roughly 90,000 years, but not long ago, these majestic animals were almost wiped off the face of the earth. In the 1940s, wild musk oxen were on the brink of extinction, leading founder John Teal to spend the next decade immersed in research that would result in the birth of Alaska’s official Musk Ox Project. With support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the University of Alaska, and countless volunteers, Teal’s Musk Ox Project established Alaska’s first domestic musk ox farm in Fairbanks in 1964. Due to the continuously rising cost of transporting hay and other crucial supplies to rural Alaska, the farm was eventually relocated to its current, more convenient location only 45 miles from Anchorage. For over 60 years, this non-profit farm has worked 365 days a year to “bring geographically appropriate agriculture to rural communities in the far north.” Thanks to the 501(c)3 Musk Ox Development Corporation who runs the farm in Palmer, herd numbers have grown steadily over the years and modern musk oxen are now living longer than ever. Focused on promoting gentle musk ox husbandry, qiviut production, and education to the general public, the Musk Ox Farm in Palmer has transformed a humble easement of land in the Mat-Su Valley into a fascinating place where curious humans of all ages get the chance to experience a personal interaction with these majestic animals. Despite their initial resistance to an educational field trip, it was clear by the end of the farm tour that the teen athletes of Northwest Territories ultimately loved the experience. “Only two of our athletes have ever seen a Musk Ox in real life,” noted Coach Chuck, “so this was a really cool experience for them. Dani, our tour guide, was so knowledgeable, I think we learned a lot,” he said. “They’re smelly!” One teen girl piped up from the back of the group with a wide smile across her face. “Yeah! This is really fun!” another teammate exclaimed, kicking a frozen musk ox turd in his friend’s direction. In true kid-fashion, his friend giggled and kicked it back, which started a rather hilarious multiplayer round of turd futsal that had all of us – even the adults and stoic older teenagers– laughing out loud as we made our way back to the gift shop, because none of us are too cool for poop jokes. As Team Northwest Territories thanked Dani for their super special Musk Ox pin and gifted her pins of their own, the whole team chatted excitedly as they climbed back onto the bus. Team Alaska arrived then and filed in to join the next tour, and a few stragglers stopped to browse the selection of hand-spun qiviut yarn (eight times warmer than wool and softer than goose down), colorful Musk Ox stickers, handmade musk ox horn jewelry, and gorgeously illustrated children’s books featuring friendly musk oxen inspired by the real ones we just met outside. Bummed you missed your chance to meet the Musk Ox herd? We’ve got good news! In response to high demand, the Palmer Musk Ox Farm has extended their complimentary tours for 2024 Arctic Winter Games athletes, cultural participants, media, and credentialled adults through Thursday and Friday of this week. “It has been such a joy to meet so many incredible athletes from around the world, their coaches and keepers,” said Mark Austin, Executive Director of the Musk Ox Farm. “We packed the farm over the past three days but there were definitely some spots left unfilled. If there are any athletes who would still like to visit the farm (and pick up a Musk Ox pin!) go to our website: and book a tour using the discount code: AWG. Athletes must bring their AWG Badge for free tours, and credentialed adults may join tours based upon availability.” Grab your friends and head over to the Musk Ox Farm–just 2.5 miles away from the Palmer Train Depot–anytime Thursday or Friday between noon and 5pm, and experience the scenic walking tour (and these unique arctic mammals) for yourself.

  • Alberta North's Secret to Gold? A good nap

    It was a thrilling afternoon and evening of curling at the MTA for the female and male bronze, silver, and gold medal games! First, the female and male teams for Alaska and Northwest Territories faced each other to determine which team would advance to play #1 seed Alberta North for the gold ulu medal. The male teams traded leads throughout the first half, with Northwest Territories leading Alaska by one with a score of 4-3 at the break. Momentum shifted in Alaska’s favor in the second half. There, a series of skillful “takeouts” (removing the opposing team’s rock with your own) by both teams left Northwest Territories with exceedingly difficult final shots in the sixth and seventh ends, ultimately giving way to an Alaska win of 7-3. The female team matchup between Alaska and Northwest Territories was a nailbiter all the way to the final rock of the final end. With that final rock, Northwest Territories faced an Alaska rock in the scoring position. They had a decision to make: Try for a “takeout” or a “draw”? With poise and precision, Northwest Territories skip Reese Wainman went for the “draw,” which her teammates skillfully swept into the scoring position for a final score of NWT 5 – AK 4, earning them a spot in the female team gold ulu matchup against Alberta North. With evening came the gold ulu games. For the male team, it was Alberta North v. Alaska. This was the second Arctic Winter Games in a row where Alaska and Alberta North faced each other for the gold ulu. Heading into the game, Alaska male team coach Jon Johnson reflected on the history between Alaska and Alberta North, and especially the camaraderie that they’ve formed. “Our games have been exceptionally close this year,” said Johnson. “They’re best of friends with the boys on the other team. They just have done a lot of bonding this week, so they’re excited to play each other, they’re all really happy to be doing it together and that’s what they wanted to see happen. So now they’re going to go out there and play with these kids that they’ve really made friends but it’s gonna be competitive. It’ll be fun.” And competitive and fun it was! The first end was chock full of high skill draws, freezes and utilizing guards (all real curling terms, we promise!). Both teams made incredible shots and ended the half with an anyone’s-game score of Alberta North 3, Alaska 1. Alberta North pulled away in the second half, combining smart strategy with precision hits to win the game, and the gold ulu, with a final score of 8-1. Alberta North’s secret to success? Coach Les Sonnenberg gives the nap his team took before the game a lot of credit for their mental focus and execution today! The female gold ulu game featured Northwest Territories and Alberta North – again, the same two teams who faced off in the last Arctic Winter games! This year it was the Alberta North ladies’ turn to take home the gold. Northwest Territories started the game strong, but when Alberta North scored five points in the fourth end, it simply proved too much to overcome. After six ends, Northwest Territories conceded with handshakes and hugs. While the Alberta North male team was napping pre-game, it sounds like the Alberta North female team was rocking. Teammates Lola Rasi and Hayden Young said that the team prepared by listening to music like Eminem and Queen to take their minds off the stress. Whatever the method, everything the Alberta North curlers touched turned to gold at this Arctic Winter Games. Congratulations to all! Male results Gold: Alberta North Silver: Alaska Bronze: Northwest Territories Female results Gold: Alberta North Silver: Northwest Territories Bronze: Alaska

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