As of today, we are less than one month away from the start of the Arctic Winter Games.
And Todd Shafer, the Games’ general manager, is a confident man.
The only things left to do leading up to the opening ceremonies on March 18 are tying up the loose ends.
“It’s mostly nailing down details now,” he said. “We’re in the progress of finalizing things like the set-up and take-down of facilities, volunteer recruitment and fundraising, but we do have some sponsorship coming through so that’s taking a bit of the pressure off of fundraising.”
When it comes to volunteers, the number currently sits just below 1,300, which is the number Greg Rowe, president of the 2018 host society, said recently in the Hay River Hub would be enough to make sure everything runs as expected.
Shafer said 1,500 is still the goal, but they can make it work with 1,300.
“If we have 1,500, that gives us some room to maneuver so we’re not over-working anyone,” he said. “We’re respectful of the fact that some of the volunteers want to watch some of the sports and soak in the atmosphere. The difference between 1,300 and 1,500 is negligible and it won’t make a huge impact on our operations.”
The big news coming out of Hay River is the arena once again missing its target date to be handed over to the town. The town has said the arena will be ready and Shafer is confident it will be.
“We’re moving forward with the knowledge that the arena will be ready,” he said. “It’s our venue for volleyball (being played in the new curling club), hockey, a cafeteria and the opening ceremonies so we’re confident that everything will be ready.”
Shafer also squashed rumours that hockey will be moved to Yellowknife if the arena wasn’t ready in time for the Games.
All of the other venues in Hay River and Fort Smith are ready to go, he said, with the layouts and preparation all done.
“The sport committees and chairpersons have done a great job to carve out the playing areas and spectator areas,” he said. “We know space is going to be at a premium in some locations and so spectators will be allowed in on a first-come, first-served basis.”
The Games will also follow in the footsteps of the 2016 AWG in Greenland and make entry to all venues free of charge. The only exception is the opening ceremonies, where tickets will go for $50.
Shafer said there was some deliberation about whether admission should be charged but the athletes’ experience was the deciding factor.
“The athletes all want a full venue and we didn’t want cost to be a hindrance,” he said. “You also have people coming from far away to watch and we don’t want them to incur any additional costs on top of what they’re already spending to be here.”
Sponsorship has also allowed for the free entry, he added.
All of the athlete accommodations are ready to go with every single school in both towns being taken over and classrooms outfitted with bunk beds, some purchased from the 2015 Canada Winter Games host society and some rented from a company in Saskatchewan that specializes in event planning, said Shafer.
“We’ll sell ours afterward and the rented ones will be returned to Saskatchewan,” he said. “We’ll see what the uptick is on selling them on but we’ve had some interest about using them for other events in the area.”
The athletes will start arriving on March 16 with Alaska and Greenland hitting the ground in Yellowknife to go through customs, followed by a bus ride down Highway 3 to Hay River. The rest of the teams are arriving on March 17 in Hay River.
“Knock on wood, that’s when they’ll be here,” said Shafer. “Weather is always a factor but we’re confident.”