WHITEHORSE, Yukon Territory - Formal ceremonies kicking off the 16th Arctic Winter Games were held here over the weekend.
Nine different teams are participating in the biennial sports festival of the North. Alaska has the largest delegation entered in the games, with 263. In all, 1,325 athletes from Greenland; Chukotka and Magadan, Russia; and Alberta North, Northwest Territories, Nunavik-Quebec, Nunavut, and Yukon Territory, Canada, and Alaska are competing.
Events range from volleyball and wrestling to basketball and figure skating.
Twelve-year-old Megan Cook of Fairbanks was among the few banner carriers for Team Alaska during Sunday's formal ceremonies.
A sixth-grader, Cook is one of the youngest members of Team Alaska's gymnastics squad that will be competing against athletes from eight other Arctic regions.
``We think this is a pretty big event for our daughter,'' said Janet Cook, who said she was impressed with Sunday's opening ceremonies. ``They were just like the Olympics.''
Many of the Alaska squads didn't practice for the first time until the weekend, after the seven team buses had arrived.
``In 1998, Yukon was a pretty good team and a team that got to play together,'' said Alaska junior men's volleyball coach Ben Brannon. ``In Canada, these teams get together beforehand and practice for six months. With us, we're kind of thrown together with kids from all over the state.
``It will be interesting. It's kind of one of those things which you hope will look better at the end of the week than at the beginning of the week.''
Figure skater Jennifer Hufford wasn't concerned about the chemistry of mysterious teammates or the caliber of the competition.
She's an Arctic Winter Games veteran, having also competed in 1996 in her hometown of Eagle River and two years ago in the Northwest Territories.
Hufford and Kaila Korsmo, a fellow Anchorage Figure Skating Club member, also got a taste of international competition two weeks ago at an event in Vienna, Austria.
``It was awesome. It was so much fun,'' said Hufford, a Chugiak High School sophomore.
The competition in Austria featured about 500 skaters from 15 countries. The Arctic Winter Games features fewer skaters from four countries.
But Hufford, competing in the open/novice ladies division, looks forward as much to skating here as she did in Vienna.
``I'm viewing it for the fun,'' Hufford said. ``It's just a good experience.''
The games are scheduled to conclude Saturday.