KENAI - With a year and a half to go before the 2006 Arctic Winter Games come to the Kenai Peninsula, organizers acknowledge there's a lot of work to do.
But after a visit from international observers from around the Arctic this month, it appears as if plans for the games are on the right track.
"I thought it was very well done, very thorough and very organized," said International Committee member Karen Thomson of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.
The International Committee as well as chefs de missions, who represent the athletes and cultural delegations, from participating nations toured games venues and met with host society organizers. The Arctic Winter Games take place every two years and feature young athletes from Alaska, several Canadian provinces and territories, Russia, Greenland and the Saami people of Scandanavia.
They discussed plans for everything from food service and lodging to transportation and security issues.
Alaska Chef de Mission John Estle of Fairbanks said no host society is fully prepared to host the games this far in advance. However, he thinks the Kenai Peninsula is on the right path.
"No matter how good the plans are, there will always be changes before the games," Estle said.
The round of visits enabled committee members and chefs to ask questions about particular issues of concern and get a feel for how preparations are coming along.
Estle said he believes most of the planning indicates the host society is fully aware of the challenges ahead and is preparing to deal with the unexpected.
"I felt people were realistic and didn't create unrealistic expectations," he said.
Although much of the planning - such as where events will be staged and where athletes will be housed - already is complete, work on a couple key issues still needs to be done.
Perhaps the biggest challenge will be making modifications to the Kenai Multipurpose Facility in order to prepare for hockey competitions.
"That's certainly a challenge that has to be overcome," Estle said.
The problem is the facility is not enclosed and not suitable for watching hockey. Seating needs to be upgraded, dressing rooms built and heating installed for spectators. Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dale Bagley said plans are in the works to upgrade the ice rink, but federal funding expected to cover the more than $1 million cost of the project has not arrived.
"We've had problems with the funding portion," Bagley said.
Bagley said the host society must either find another source of outside funding to do the work at the rink or scale down the project to the minimum needed to get it ready for play.
"At the very minimum, we need to make that facility acceptable," he said.
The host society also needs to address the issue of transportation, Bagley said.
Because the peninsula lacks major public transit, getting athletes and spectators around the peninsula is going to be a major issue.
"We'll need to find someone with transportation experience to coordinate with," Bagley said.
Many of the venues needed for the games are pretty much ready to go. But upgrades are needed at the hockey rink and Tsalteshi Trails before the games begin.
"Overall, they're where they need to be," Thomson said.
One of the venues already is drawing raves from international members. As the site of the Nordic skiing competition, Alyeska Resort will be the most advanced skiing site ever to host a games competition.
"It's better than any games we've ever had," Thomson said. "The kids are going to be blown away."
Games General Manager Loren Smith said he believes the peninsula is in good shape at this stage in the process.
"We have a lot more work to do, but I feel comfortable with where we're at," Smith said.
In addition to having working plans in place, the games also have been soliciting donations and volunteers in recent weeks to help put on the event.
The games, which will run March 5-11, 2006, are expected to bring between 6,000 and 8,000 visitors and 2,000 athletes to the Kenai Peninsula.