Empire editorial: This is the place

Posted: Sunday, January 19, 2003

Welcome to the ideal site for the 2006 Arctic Winter Games!

On Saturday, Mother Nature threw a monkey wrench into a well-planned welcome for the Arctic Winter Games International Committee. Six members of the 11-member committee were scheduled to land in Juneau on Saturday afternoon to assess Juneau's qualifications to host the 2006 games.

A heavy fog of the sort that has frequented Gastineau Channel over the past five months prevented the AWG ambassadors from experiencing a well-attended welcoming ceremony at the airport. The Lda Kut Naax Sati' Yatx'i, All Nations' Children dancers, city officials and bid committee members, volunteers and supporters were all patiently waiting to roll out the red carpet.

Hopefully the International Committee members have by now arrived safely and are ready to enjoy their tour of Juneau today.

Every two years, 1,600 young athletes congregate along with a legion of coaches, family members and other guests to take part in athletic competition and cultural exchange at a carefully selected site located in the Arctic or subarctic regions Alaska, Russia, Greenland or Canada.

Our visitors will discover that they will be hard-pressed to find a more hospitable community than our own. Kenai and Fairbanks also are competing for the honor. Even though the residents of our fair city may disagree on an issue from time to time, when it comes to playing host Juneau has no known equal.

Juneau first and foremost plays host to the Alaska State Legislature. Our lawmakers return each January without fail, although new ones show up after each election season due primarily to the intense competition for the privilege and enjoyment of living in Juneau for four months out of the year.

Juneau also hosts more than 700,000 cruise ship tourists each summer and many of them rank their shoreside experience in Juneau as the apex of their lifetime travels, especially those who hail from Dubuque.

Our AWG guests should pay no heed to the foggy, damp and tepid weather they have encountered during their visit. The winter of 2002-03 throughout the North Country has proven to be an aberration. Shoot, even the mushers scheduled to compete in this winter's Iditarod may have to train their sled dogs to water ski due to the unusually warm weather in Alaska.

Weather forecasting in Juneau is normally the easiest job in town, ranked right up there with the bliss of being a night watchman in June. One thing that we Juneauites have been able to count on for sure is snow at elevation in March when the games will be held. Eaglecrest Ski Area has not missed one March with good skiable conditions in the 26 years of its existence, and we have the frostbite to prove it.

If our Arctic Winter Games visitors had been here a year ago they would have been astounded by the outpouring of community support for the Olympic Torch Relay, which became a winter holiday for Juneau and captured the participation of hundreds of volunteers and 10,000 spectators.

For this event, Mother Nature delivered a good dumping of snow right on cue, topped off by bright sunshine as the torch made its way through town. This is all well documented should the accuracy of this claim be questioned.

We hope, too, that our AWG visitors have had a chance to see that Juneau is a sports-crazy town. Each March, Juneau hosts hundreds of visitors from throughout the region for the Gold Medal Basketball Tournament, one of the premier basketball extravaganzas to be found anywhere in the North.

Our indoor venues are always full, and Juneau provides an amazing range of outdoor athletic pursuits year around. The typical Juneau garage is filled to bursting with kayaks, skis, bicycles, snowshoes, sleds, backpacks, camping equipment, climbing gear, hockey sticks, and soon to come - curling brooms.

Our guests should have no difficulty in recognizing that Juneau takes great pride in its diversity and rich cultural heritage. The cultural exchange that is such an important aspect of the games will be well served by Juneau in 2006.

Of course, the ideal host must possess a good sense of humor. It is a little-known fact that humor was invented right here in what is now known as Juneau by the first inhabitants of the land, the Tlingits. Bob Martin can verify this historical fact.

Humor abounds in Juneau, except maybe for the rest of this page. From the halls of the Capitol and the chambers of the Assembly to the coffee klatches and barbershops around town, levity and good-natured kidding rule the day. OK, this part might be a slight exaggeration.

In closing, we wish to thank AWG International Committee for considering Juneau as "the" site for the 2006 games and offer the assurance that Juneau will rise to the occasion and provide the setting for an absolutely unforgettable experience. And, if you should have to opportunity to return in March, we guarantee snow on the slopes!

Thanks also to Jim Powell, the AWG Bid Committee, the Lda Kut Naax Sati' Yatx'i dancers and all the volunteers, sponsors, donors and supporters who helped to welcome the international committee to Juneau.

Don Smith

dssmith@juneauempire.com



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