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History of The Arctic Winter Games

January 29 to February 4, 2023


The Arctic Winter games take place every two years for a week in March. But, I noticed that for 2023 they moved them to be in January for some reason.   They are held in either Canada, Alaska or Greenland. The logo for the Arctic Winter Games is three interlocking rings that symbolize the three purposes for the event: Athletic Competition, Cultural Exhibition and Social Interchange.

 Never heard of this event? So, how exactly did this event begin?

They started back in the late 1960's when  Cal Miller, a Yukon businessman and Stuart Hodgson, the commissioner of the Northwest Territories were in Quebec City at that Canada Winter Olympic Games.  They were there to support their local athletes.  It bothered them that the contestants from Canada's northern territories were defeated by those from the southern Canadian provinces. This was because the southern provinces had better training facilities, sponsors and other forms of support.  The two men talked about this and it led to them establishing what is known today as the Arctic Winter Games, which were held for the first time in Yellowknife, which is the capital of the Northwest Territories in 1970.

In the beginning, only athletes from the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Alaska participated in the games. Soon, athletes from northern Quebec, Greenland and Northern Alberta participated. For some reason, a few years later Quebec dropped out of these games.    In 1990, athletes from the nearby Russian provinces joined the games also.  More than 1,600 athletes from nine regions: Magadan, Chukotka (Russia), Alaska, Yukon, Northern Alberta, Northwest Territories, Nunavit (Arctic Quebec), Nunavut, and Greenland participated in the 2002 Games, which were held in Iqaluit, Canada and Nuuk, Greenland jointly.

The Arctic Games feature many of the same games as in the Winter Olympics such as alpine and cross-country skiing, hockey, snowboarding, speed skating, curling and the biathlon, they also have  sine northern sports like dog mushing and snowshoeing. There are also some very unique games exhibiting the traditional Inuit competitions.  And, since there is no real summer up in the northern regions, the Arctic Winter Games also feature indoor basketball, badminton, volleyball, soccer and wrestling.

Inuit Competitions

For most of the spectators, it's the Inuit competitions that are the most entertaining. These were developed by the aboriginal inhabitants of northern Canada, Greenland, Alaska and northern Siberia as a form of entertainment as well as a way to keep fit during the long, dark winter days. Most of the games were to help develop skills that at the time were essential to survival. They could also be played with little or not equipment in limited spaces or inside an igloo. Participation and self-improvement were stressed over competition.  It was unusual for someone to actually get hurt during these games.

Both men and women participate in the Arctic Winter Games which include pulling, twisting, kicking,  reaching and sheer endurance.  Some of the competitions include such events as: 

Mouth Pull and Ear Pull = The object is to reach around behind the other persons head and grab his or he mouth or ear so that he or she is forced to turn his or her head to the side.

Finger Pull = Two contestants face each other with their middle fingers locked, pulling until one of them is forced to straighten his or her finger.

Head Pull =  The contestants have a belt or canvas webbing fastened around their both of their heads, and then pull against each other in an effort to throw the other one off-balance.

Arm Pull and Hand Pull = These are based on the same principles as the finger pulls.

Knuckle Hop =  The contestants get into a "push up" contest and then try to hop forward by balancing on their knuckles and toes. It can be quite painful to watch!

Kicking Competitions = These are both one foot and two foot high kicks.  This contest includes jumping up and kicking an object (usually a wad of sealskin) that is suspended at a certain level.  The height level keeps increasing.  The even doesn't refer to the distance in height the competitors must jump. Ironically, it refers to how they land!   

In the one-foot competition the contestant must take off on both feet, kick the target with one foot and then land on this same foot while not touching the floor with the other foot.

In the two-foot competition, they must jump with both feet, kick the object and land on both feet. The "Alaskan High Kick" requires so much strength, coordination and balance it defies description. In fact, most of these Inuit games require agility and extraordinary arm and hand strength which were at one time skills that were necessary for hunting and harpooning, for jumping from one ice floe to the next, as well as out maneuvering wild animals to survive.

In the Musk-Ox Fight, women get down on their hands and knees, place their heads side by side and push against one another's shoulders in much the same way the female musk-ox does in the wild.

From the very beginning, the emphasis on the Arctic Winter Games has been on getting as many athletes as possible to participate in the competition, rather than on attracting elite athletes who have ample opportunity to compete in other contests.  So, it is important to the game's spirit that figure skating (the most watched and most publicized games of the Winter Olympics) be dropped from the Arctic Winter Games in 2002 due to "lack of time."

Besides sporting events, the games also feature cultural exhibits and activities.  The 2002 Games featured a northern film festival, a display of Arctic fashions, Arctic cooking demonstrations and a snow sculpture contest.


The Arctic Winter Games feature demonstrations, and competitions in traditional bannock making.  Bannock is round biscuit made of water, flour, salt, lard, buttermilk, baking soda and other ingredients.  Bannok-making is part of what is called "The Good Woman Contest", in which the women compete against one another in such essential frontier skills as seal skinning and cutting up caribou meat.  In the old days, these were the only competitions women were allowed to participate in. Today, both women and men compete together in most all of the events. But Bannok-making still remains popular.  The Bannok resembles a large scone and is traditionally cooked in a cast iron frying pan over an open fire with lots of melted lard.

The Hodgson Trophy

The Hodgson Trophy is named after Commission Stuart Hodgson of the Northwest Territories, and one of the founders of the Arctic Winter Games.  This trophy consists of a soapstone base and a narwhal tusk. There is a walrus carved into  the base of the tusk, and a bear near the top, which symbolizes striving to do your best. Medal are also awarded to individual athletes too. But the Hodgson Trophy is awarded to the team whose conduct best demonstrates "the ideals of fair play and team spirit."

Visit also our other page called World Eskimo-Indian Olympics.

Visit the Official Arctic Winter Games website.

Return to our March Holidays page.

Source of Information:
"Holidays, Symbols & Customs  3rd Edition"
By Sue Ellen Thompson
Omnigraphics, Inc. © 2003

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