Vying for the games

International Committee tours town, asks city about weather, flight delays

Posted: Monday, January 20, 2003

Considering they'd been prevented by weather from flying into Juneau as scheduled, the members of the site selection committee for the 2006 Arctic Winter Games arrived a day late with one concern on their minds.

"What are you going to do if this happens and 16 aircraft are headed toward Juneau?" committee member Ian Legaree from Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, wanted to know Sunday. "It's a very important consideration. There's no doubt we need to understand what the contingency is."

The organizers of Juneau's bid for the Arctic Winter Games said ferries would transport athletes and spectators from Sitka or Skagway, for example, if their flights couldn't land in Juneau.

"We can't leave that to chance," Jim Powell, chairman of the Juneau bid committee, said in an interview. "We set it up, so it's taken off the table."

Members of the games' International Committee, which is evaluating three Alaska sites for the 2006 games, had visited Fairbanks on Thursday and the Kenai Peninsula on Friday. On Saturday afternoon, they couldn't land in foggy Juneau.

The six-person traveling panel of the 11-person International Committee ended up disembarking in Ketchikan and flying to Sitka on Saturday. They arrived in Juneau on a Sunday morning flight. One of the first concerns committee members voiced was how Juneau would respond if it was foggy during the games.

Juneau bid organizers used humor to soften any bad impression the delay may have caused.

"The second time is always best," Mayor Sally Smith told committee members at the welcoming ceremony at the Juneau Airport. "Even when our weather isn't the best, the warmth and the hearts of the people more than make up for it."

The bid organizers used the few hours the committee members were in town to tout their plans for the games, and show off a few of the more critical venues, such as Eaglecrest Ski Area, the Treadwell Arena in Douglas and Juneau-Douglas High School.

The winter games and cultural events, held every two years in March, attract about 1,600 youthful competitors from Alaska, Canada, Greenland and Siberian Russia.

Traveling were committee members Wendell Shiffler of Fairbanks and John Rodda of Anchorage; Legaree and Don Sian of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories; Karen Thomson from Whitehorse in the Yukon; and Lloyd Bentz from Edmonton, Alberta.

The International Committee is looking at the site's ability to provide care, comfort and safety to the participants, nearly all of whom are youths, Vice President Peter Moore of Slave Lake, Alberta, said last week.

Committee members also consider the sports facilities, financing, the skills of local organizers, the extent of community support, the town's spirit, and that indefinable "other" - "Something in a person's 'gut' that gives confidence," Moore said in an e-mail to the Empire.

Roughly 40 locals, including about 15 bid committee members, turned out at the airport to welcome the International Committee. The All Nations' Children Dancers, a Native group, performed a Raven dance. About 70 people filled the lodge at Eaglecrest to show support, and about 25 people chanted "arctic, arctic" outside the Treadwell ice arena as the travelers arrived in a van accompanied by two fire trucks. Elder Rosa Miller welcomed the committee on behalf of the Auk-kwan, the original settlers here.

Midway through the tour, International Committee member Legaree said Juneau has "good community spirit" and residents care about the games.

"They keyed on this bid," he said. "They weren't disheartened by the fact we couldn't arrive yesterday."

Hosting the games "would be really cool, really help the community," said Kristen Brandner, 15, a ski racer who listened to the presentation at Eaglecrest lodge.

"It would be a nice opportunity to interact with other athletes internationally," said Gabrielle Vance, 13, another racer on the Juneau Ski Team.

Eaglecrest Business Manager Gary Mendivil said the games would be exciting "for the kids, because our kids are pretty good. They hold their own against the ski race teams in the Lower 48," but don't get the chance to compete against Canadians and people of other nationalities.

At Treadwell Arena, Adam Watson held up his 15-month-old son, Tad, who gripped a sign supporting the Arctic Winter Games. Tad's mother, Sandy, said they had been driving by the arena and heard about the International Committee's visit.

"We thought we'd stick around and show our support. It sounds pretty exciting," she said.

Besides the fog, the rain was on people's minds. Eaglecrest Ski Area has been open only briefly this season, and outside the lodge the ground largely was brown, not white. But much of Alaska and northwest Canada have had an unusually warm winter.

"I guess you could call this a warm welcome to the International Committee," Mendivil told committee members and the public gathered at the lodge. "Rest assured, since 1976 we have always been open in March. There has always been plenty of snow. Statistically, March has been our best snow month."

At Treadwell Arena, bid committee member Sandy Williams touted Juneau's interest in sports and its tradition of volunteerism.

"Juneau has quite a reputation as a sports-minded community," he said, citing the 1,200 youths and 300 adults who play soccer, 1,000-plus Little Leaguers, and 1,500 adult softball players.

"Most all these programs are run by volunteers," he told the International Committee. "With that in mind, there will be no problem in Juneau getting volunteers out to put on the Arctic Winter Games.

The six-member traveling group will present its recommendation for a site to the full International Committee, which will decide in late February, Legaree said. The two Alaska members of the committee will not vote.

"One final question," Legaree asked Williams at Treadwell. "Do you have your tuxedo for driving the Zamboni around?"

• Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.

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