Snow Snaking and Alaskan High Kick: The Arctic Winter Games 2024 are over | Polarjournal
The Arctic Winter Games are not only about sports, but also about celebrating Arctic culture and traditions. Photo: Jessica Crisp, Arctic Winter Games 2024
The Arctic Winter Games are not only about sports, but also about celebrating Arctic culture and traditions. Photo: Jessica Crisp, Arctic Winter Games 2024

Alaska and Yukon won the medal standings at the 2024 Arctic Winter Games while the Saami and Nunavik trailed behind. Read this article for highlights from the uniquely Arctic sporting event. 

In a tightly-packed sports center in Mat-Su Valley, Alaska, Parker Kenick, a tall local youth with glasses and a broad smile, is lining up for a jump. He takes a deep breath, runs forward in two long steps before he kicks both feet up, far above his head. His toes reach a suspended sealskin ball at the staggering height of 2 meters and 54 centimeters. 

The crowd goes wild.

But not long after, Colton Paul, also of Alaska, lines up in the same spot, bare-chested and full of pent-up energy. He makes the same calculated run-up, leaves the ground in the same gravity-defying way, but this time the ball is placed slightly higher, 2 meters and 59 centimeters above the hardwood floor. 

His toes reach the ball, making it spin. His feet, never parting, land back on the ground. He finds his balance, and cheers spontaneously, jumping wildly, before sending the judge a searching look. The jump is confirmed so he claps his hands in relief, and lets out a cheer from deep within his stomach. The crowd is wilder than before. 

This jump by Colton Paul, which can be seen on video here, was enough to win him the gold medal in the Men’s Two Foot High Kick at the 2024 Arctic Winter Games. Like other sports at the games, the two foot high kick, which is said to be the most demanding Arctic sport, has its roots in traditional Inuit hunting practices. 

According to myths, when a whale had been caught in coastal parts of the Arctic, a messenger would run back to the village and kick both feet high above his head. This would alert villagers to prepare the harvesting of the whale.

Colton Paul of Alaska completing the winning jump in the men's Two Foot High Kick competion. Photo: Ethan Cooke, Arctic Winter Games 2024
Colton Paul of Alaska in the midst of the winning jump in the men’s Two Foot High Kick competion. Photo: Ethan Cooke, Arctic Winter Games 2024

Unique Arctic sports

Not all sports at the Arctic Winter Games are as uniquely Arctic as the two foot high kick.  Most of the sports are recognizable from both the summer and the winter Olympics. Basketball, badminton, snowboarding, curling, archery, ice hockey, and the list goes on. 

But a few of the other sports will be just as unfamiliar to sports viewers from more southern latitudes. Scroll down to see photo highlights from some of these more esoteric events at the Arctic Winter Games 2024.

Snowshoeing

Alaskan high kick

Knuckle Hop

Snow Snake

Head Pull

Circumpolar bonds

The participants of the Arctic Winter Games were divided into eight different territories: Alaska, Yukon, Northwest Territories, Alberta North, Nunavut, Nunavik, Kalaallit Nunaat (Greenland), and Sápmi (the land of the Sáami). 

In the end, the overall medal standing was topped by Alaska with 70 gold medals, 85 silver medals, and 66 of bronze. They were followed by Yukon (59, 45, 58), and Alberta North (43, 42, 39). With 9 of gold, 9 of silver, and 9 of bronze, Sapmi was the least successful participant.

The full medal standing as well as results from all competitions can be found here.  

But with that said it is important to remember the true goal of the Arctic Winter Games: the fostering of circumpolar bonds. Or as John Rodda, President of the Arctic Winter Games International Committee, said during the opening ceremony.  

“It is a time to make new friends, to see old friends, to share memories, and to make new memories, many of which I guarantee you will last a lifetime. Celebrate and embrace these moments,” he said.  

Ole Ellekrog, Polar Journal

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