Mat-Su Borough submits bid to host 2024 Arctic Winter Games

An Arctic Winter Games athlete in Nome. (Laura Kraegel/KNOM)

Matanuska-Susitna Borough has submitted a bid to host the 2024 Arctic Winter Games.

The Arctic Winter Games happen every two years. It’s a multi-sport event and Indigenous cultural celebration involving communities and participants from around the Circumpolar North.

This is the Matanuska-Susitna Borough’s first real shot at hosting the convention. The borough’s purchasing officer, Russ Kraft, says the borough has bid on previous games but never made it this far into the process.

“We’re hoping that at the end of March, first of April we’ll receive notification from the international committee that our bid has been accepted,” Kraft said. “Once that happens, we have to work out a few details in terms of the contract that is signed between the borough and the international committee to go ahead and get moving forward.”

Alaska typically hosts the games every eight to 10 years — and it had already been decided that the 2024 games would return to the state. But it’s up to individual municipalities and regions to bid on hosting the games.

Kraft believes the borough is the only entity that’s made it this far in the process.

Shawn Maltby is Chef de Mission for Team Alaska. That’s a fancy term that means he’s in charge of the team that picks and organizes the youth athletes from Alaska to compete in the winter games.

In the game’s 50-year history, Alaska has hosted the event six times, most recently in Fairbanks in 2014. Maltby says that competing in Alaska gives an edge to athletes from the state.

“It just gives them the upper advantage of being in their home turf to be able to play their sport and perform their art, whatever it may be,” he said. “We still play a part in being able to showcase our state, our culture and everything else.”

On the borough’s website, a Feb. 22 news release says the submission was mailed to the games operations coordinator on February 19th.

The review process takes about three weeks to complete before a decision will be made. And Mat-Su Borough’s Russ Kraft says the region has a lot to gain.

“This provides not only a direct economic impact from just holding the games here and having 2000-plus visitors coming to the area during a time of the year that traditionally has very little tourism,” Kraft said. “It also puts us out there for the world to see so that they can see what the Valley has to offer.”

While the borough would simply provide oversight into planning the project, a nonprofit society will handle putting on the games. But they haven’t formed yet and a lot of work still needs to be done to prepare in the meantime.

“This would provide us with an opportunity to start highlighting everything that we’ve been doing over the past 10, 20 years, the networks of ski trails, the infrastructure that we built, far as all of these different facilities,” Kraft said. “It’s going to allow them to be on center stage to the world as all of these athletes are coming in from the different northern nations.”

Kraft says a number of people, organizations and nonprofits have already started to reach out to the borough with offers to help.

“We’re starting to see that kind of upwelling of support a little bit earlier than we anticipated we were going to see it,” he said. “That really makes us more and more confident that we’re going to be able to do this and that what we’re going to put out there is going to be a world-class event and the borough is going to be center stage.”

The Mat-Su Borough may have a lot of work still to do, but the 2024 games are still a ways out. The 2022 Arctic Winter Games are scheduled to take place in Wood Buffalo, Alberta, Canada.

Organizers canceled the 2020 games in Whitehorse, Yukon, out of COVID-19 concerns. The decision to cancel was the first since 1970 when the games began.

According to the release, the borough voted to the move the bid forward during a February 2nd regular Assembly meeting. According to borough estimates, the games need between $4 million to $6 million to operate – which will be covered largely through grant funding, sponsorships and in-kind donations.

The borough agreed to appropriate about $250,000 for start-up and organizational costs. The state of Alaska also verbally committed, saying it would contribute $2 million. And the Arctic Winter Games International Committee has about $50,000 from the previous games in Fairbanks that will be donated to host the 2024 games.

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