Arctic Winter Games Trip
Nuuk, Greenland (Kalaallit Nunaat)
March 16-23 2002
Gary Snyder

Arctic Winter Games

Just now I am on a flight between Kangerlussuaq Greenland and Iqaluit
Canada (formerly Frobisher Bay).  I am on a charter flight returning home
with the Alaska Arctic Winter Games Team. The 2002 games were co-hosted by
Nuuk Greenland and Iqaluit, across the Davis Strait of the North Atlantic.
Adam Verrier, Kendra Besh, and myself were coaches for 23 cross-country
skiers from around Alaska competing in the games.  The Arctic Winter Games
have been held every 2 years since 1970.  Youths compete in about 20 indoor
and outdoor sports that are popular in the Arctic. This ranges from dog
mushing and native games to basketball, snowboarding and curling.   In
addition to sports there are cultural elements to the games with exhibitions
of art, dancing, crafts, foods, and music from all of the regions.  This
year there were teams from host Greenland, Canadian teams from Nunavik
(Northern Quebec), Nunavut, Northwest Territories, Northern Alberta, Yukon,
Team Alaska/USA, and Russian teams from Magadan and Chukotka.


The logistics of hosting these games were amazing.  Host community Nuuk
(formerly Godthaab, population about 10,000) provided for 1000 participants
for one week. Imagine 25,000 tourists hitting Anchorage at once! There were
hundreds of volunteers. Every plane and bus in Greenland was probably
utilized (there are only 50 miles of roads in Greenland).  Schools closed in
Nuuk, and we slept in classrooms on cots. All meals were in a cafeteria.  
Food was pretty typical Danish fare, supplemented daily by spaghetti (for
picky teens) and occasional Inuit foods…seal and whale.  I thought the food
was great (although I brought Tabasco to spice it up). I probably gained 5
pounds.  People crowded all the streets, shops, buses and venues all the


We arrived in Nuuk at midnight after many hours of travel.  A room snafu
had occurred so 3 of the older boys and I went from the Ask School to the
Usk School to find beds. We ended up sharing a room with 4 boys from
Magadan, who were quite surprised to find us in the morning.  The Magadan
team introduced us to pin trading and stinky cigarettes. Later we moved back
with the other boys at Ask School. The four of us then shared a room with 4
skiers and a coach from Northern Alberta. My boys learned about Canadian
accents and language subtleties.  We all got along great.
Three times I walked home from the ski area to avoid crowded buses. Once
the MC from the opening ceremonies picked me up. Another time the principal
of Ask school gave me a ride. I never even needed to put out my thumb.
On the ski trails I met the Greenlandic coaches Paul and Netuuk. Netuuk
told me that she had found skiing in the trees of Anchorage “claustrophobic�
when she was at the Arctic Winter Games there in 1996. This while we are
standing in a 20 mph wind.  I traded hats and jackets with Paul at the end
of the week. I also met the Yukon coaches, both ex-Canada National Team
members Alain Masson and Lucy Steele. Alain had just returned from Salt Lake
City where he had waxed pursuit medalist Becki Scott’s skis.
Getting to know the kids on my own team was the most fun.  None of them
skied for the high school I coach, so they were all pretty new to me.  We
had a blast. They all bonded together well and we had a great time. It will
be sad going our separate ways.  The behavior was great.  I do think it was
a big, strange trip for the youngest skiers (13 years old). Some were a bit
homesick/bewildered, or more likely tired and overwhelmed.
One of the best experiences was seeing the residents of Nuuk cheer on
skiers. They bundle up and watch the races, even in really cold winds. There
were kids climbing cliffs and sliding down hills all around the course every
day. Behind every rock there was a tyke dressed in the North Face or a seal
skin outfit.  I saw lots of bundled kids always playing outside in Nuuk…I
love it!
The last two days all competitors were very friendly as pin trading
progressed to trading team uniforms and more. I managed to get rid of most
of my Team Alaska stuff for Greenlandic clothing. The real prize for traders
was the team Greenland “Arctic Blue� seal skin parkas. I am not usually a
fan of fur coats but they were beautiful! Adam managed to get one for a US
ski team ski suit from the Lillehammer Olympics. A few other people traded
many clothing articles to get one, but not many of the Greenland team
members would part with them. My guess is the parkas would cost $800-$1000
in the USA. The kids in my room traded market and real
haggling.  Winners and loosers. I did pretty well, I think.


Our schedule for the week was very busy. We had six full days in Nuuk, and
we raced on 4 of them.  Then there were coaches meetings, pre and post race,
awards ceremonies daily at 5:00 pm, opening and closing ceremonies, ski
waxing, and trying to get 23 adolescents to always be at the right place at
the right time.  To make it more difficult Kendra and the girls stayed at a
school 1 kilometer across town from us boys and the nearby cafeteria.  The
waxing garage was somewhere in between. Buses looped around town and to the
ski area. We crammed on them like Japanese subways because all the skiers
always wanted to be on them at the same time, before and after races.
Any free time was quickly spent. On our day off we all took a free fjord
cruise to see some of the outlying area and mountains…some of the oldest
rocks on earth. Spare time was spent shopping, exploring the cliffs and
streets of Nuuk, seeing shows at the cultural center (Katuaq), visiting the
net cafes, meeting with other athletes and coaches, and most of all trading
pins, uniforms, and anything else someone would barter for.  The buildings
and homes in Nuuk are very colorful, as one would expect from the Danes.
Alaskans could learn from this. One evening the kids had a dance/party and
on Wednesday the ski coaches went to the “Rock Café� for some
beer. One afternoon I squeezed in 15 minutes at the National Museum and saw
the haunting 500 year old freeze dried mummies.


The ski area, like all of Greenland, was treeless. The ski stadium was a
natural hollow in the rocks, but the wind still managed to whistle through.
The 5 km loop had a few steep hills and two gradual ones. The trails crossed
a road (in tunnels), went over a barren rock outcropping, then dramatically
dropped along the ocean and past a seaside cemetery before heading back in.
The wind coming off the ocean was very strong!  The tracks and snow were
very windblown and pretty slow. Trails were marked with leftover cuttings
from imported Christmas trees.
Our skiers picked up a majority of the medals (gold, silver, and bronze
colored ulus), followed closely by Greenland. The Greenland skiers had very
good technique. In Anchorage we have trouble getting Natives to ski so it
was heartening to see so many Inuit skiers from Greenland…and fast skiers at
that.  Their coach, Paul Pedersen from Aasiaat was very friendly.
The five skiers from Kugluktuk (formerly Coppermine), Nunavut, and their
coach Rebecca Harding-Adams were the crowd favorite.  Obviously beginner
skiers, skiing in old 3 pin bindings and falling every few steps these guys
inspired by never showing a hint of quitting or being deterred. A local ski
shop gave them all new skis, boots, and poles.  We (other teams) help them
with waxing, technique, and encouragement. Those five kids got so hooked on
skiing we know they will share their enthusiasm for skiing with all of
Kugluktuk. I am sure some of them will be back in two years.
Thursday was totally sunny, so we could finally see the sharp, rocky peaks
around Nuuk, but the high wind made it unpleasant to be outside.  Friday,
our last day, made up for all of the nasty weather. It was totally sunny and
no wind. Even locals were impressed with how calm it was. As it was after
equinox there were 12 hours of bright sun, even this far north. Everyone was
outside all day taking pictures from sunrise to sunset.  Finally on this day
the cafeteria and net cafés were empty…people were all out in the sun. The
weather was a wonderful reward to a great week, giving all visitors a warm
memory of Greenland.  That night the clear and warm weather made the outdoor
closing ceremonies and impressive fireworks display especially fun.


The charter flight just left Iqaluit after 3 hours on the tarmac loading
kids from the other half of the games. Iqaluit and Nuuk split the games
because of the sheer number of participants involved and the sled dogs would
have needed to be quarantined to go to Greenland.  Our jumbo jet is full of
tired, coughing people. Everyone has many stories to tell, though, and is
catching up with friends.  All athletes were so busy they didn’t get much
time to spectate the other sports.

The last surprise will be to see how many seal and ivory products get
smuggled into the US. I hope they don’t get my narwhale tooth!

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