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Grande Prairie, Wood Buffalo compete to host 2022 Arctic Winter Games

Two northern Alberta communities are going head-to-head to host a circumpolar event known as much for its culture as its unique sporting events.

'I wish good luck to Fort McMurray,' says co-chair of rival bid

The 2018 Arctic Winter Games mascot, Ketchi, rides along with Alaska's Johanna Badalich for a few pictures. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Two northern Alberta communities are going head-to-head for the right to host a circumpolar event known as much for its culture as for its unique sports.

Grande Prairie and the Wood Buffalo region both want to host the Arctic Winter Games in 2022.

"[Northern Alberta] is just fortunate to be able to host, whether it be Fort McMurray or Grande Prairie," said Owen Lewis, Grande Prairie's co-chair.  "I wish good luck to Fort McMurray."

The Arctic Winter Games attracts thousands of athletes from Alberta, Canada's territories, Alaska, Russia and the Sami people, Indigenous people who live in Nordic countries.

Jesse Hanthorn, Jack Amos, and Darby McIntyre, pose during the medal ceremonies for the junior men's 5 kilometre snowshoe race - one of the first medals handed out at the 2018 Arctic Winter Games. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

The games features more than 20 traditional sports and unique events from Dene and Inuit cultures, such as the Alaskan high kick, where athletes kick a sealskin ball that's suspended high on a pole.

Another event is the knuckle hop, where athletes get into a push-up position on the ground and travel as far as they can on their knuckles and feet.

See below for an example of the knuckle hop.

Alberta's bid communities are hoping for a decision on the host city for 2022 any day now.

Why Grande Prairie?

Grande Prairie, which hosted the games in 2010, has pitched itself as a community with turnkey-ready facilities.

Lewis, the community's bid co-chair, said since the last time Grande Prairie hosted the games it has built new infrastructure and cultural attractions.

The community of 70,000 has now added several state-of-the-art swimming pools and other facilities such as the Eastlink Centre and Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum.

Nearly 2,000 athletes took in the 2018 Arctic Winter Games opening ceremonies from Hay River, N.W.T. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC)

"We get to showcase our incredible community to people around the world," Lewis said.

Another perk, Lewis said, is that the community can host an indoor opening ceremony without having to build a new facility. Wood Buffalo would need to construct a temporary structure.

Why Wood Buffalo?

Wood Buffalo, which hosted the games in 2004, is pitching itself as a venue that can pull off a successful games while allowing visitors to experience the diversity of its rural and Indigenous communities.

Wood Buffalo organizers say their games wouldn't concentrate on Fort McMurray but would be shared with rural communities in the region. Fort MacKay could host speed skating and there are newly constructed sporting facilities in Anzac and Conklin.

Kim Rizzi, a member of Wood Buffalo's bid committee, said visiting athletes would get a chance to witness northern Alberta life up close and share their cultures as well.

"The cultural component of the games is just as important as the sports," Rizzi said. "Every single night we will have this cultural component. It's an opportunity for the community to learn about all these other countries and also an opportunity for us to showcase our community."

Rizzi estimates the games would cost Fort McMurray between $5 million and $8 million to host, and contribute upwards of $15 million to the economy.

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo has committed $4 million.

Grande Prairie hasn't provided a figure of how much it would cost that city to host the games. 

On its website, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo says the Alberta government will contribute $1.8 million to the winning community.

Connect with David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn or email him at david.thurton@cbc.ca