After the COVID-19 pandemic derailed the 2020 Arctic Winter Games in Whitehorse, officials announced Monday the capital city will get its turn to serve as host city.
APTN News: The most prestigious circumpolar sporting event is coming to Whitehorse in 2026.
On Monday, the City of Whitehorse, the Arctic Winter Games International Committee, and the 2026 Arctic Winter Games Host Society announced it signed a hosting agreement to bring the 2026 Arctic Winter Games to the capital city.
“We’re so excited. I’m relieved that that formal step is complete and now we can get rolling,” host society president Tracey Bilsky said.
The biennial event promotes friendly competition for young athletes while also celebrating northern regions around the world.
The games were scheduled to take place in Whitehorse in March of 2020. But the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic across the country derailed the event just four days before it was supposed to start.
“We had 3,000 volunteers ready to go for the actual games’ time week, and to have it canceled that way because of a pandemic was really emotional,” Bilsky said.
She said the goal now is planning, and lots of it. While host cities typically get a considerable amount of time to plan for the event, Whitehorse will have just two years.
But Bilsky said organizers are already one step ahead. She noted secondments from the city and additional government funding is being allocated to prepare for the shorter turn-around.
“We also have all of those plans from 2020 that we’re going to be able to spread out and figure out what we can leverage, what we can still use,” she said.
“We have vast experience in hosting games. We’ve hosted a Canada Games, the other territories haven’t done that. And honestly, the volunteer capacity that was growing from hosting games, hosting events – we have a lot of sport events that come to the territory, and I just believe we have the capacity to do it.”
The event is also expected to bring economic benefits to the city.
Around 2,000 athletes are expected to travel to Whitehorse, along with their parents, media and other sports officials. Bilsky said the games will likely result in the city receiving between 4,500 to 5,000 visitors during the week-long event.
“It’s in the millions of dollars,” she said.
“There’s businesses that are excited that people come into their stores and purchase. There’s also local businesses, food companies that the games themselves purchase goods from. There’s all of the sport governing bodies who will be receiving equipment and applying for funding and sprucing up their facilities and such for these games.”
For athletes in Yukon, the games will be a chance to showcase local talent in their own backyard.
Arctic Sports coach Eric Porter said the event is a “big deal” for northern athletes. “Arctic Sports competition is nothing like anything else that I’ve witnessed live,” he said.
“It’s just a lot of camaraderie, good spirit, everyone’s cheering for each other. It’d be nice for a lot of people that live in Whitehorse or just in our territory in general to be able to come and actually witness that. And hopefully we get a lot of eyes on the competition at that time.”
Bilsky said the focus now will be on acquiring volunteers. A launch event is underway for community members to get involved with planning. “We have volunteers who still want come back and be able to fulfill that dream of having 2000 athletes and coaches come to the territory and experience what Yukon has to offer,” she said.
The games were last held in Whitehorse in 2012.
The 2024 Arctic Winter Games will take place from March 10 to 16 in Alaska’s Matanuska-Susitna Borough.