Arctic Winter Games champ calls for change after missing tryouts because of bad weather

A defending Arctic Winter Games gold medalist in knuckle hop will only be competing as an alternate this year because bad weather prevented him from flying to Inuvik for tryouts in January.

Chris Stipdonk was unable to reach Inuvik for knuckle hop qualifications in January

N.W.T.'s Chris Stipdonk on top of the podium in 2016, flanked by Alaska's Kyle Worl, left, who took second place, and Nick Hanson, also of Alaska, in third. Stipdonk is calling for policy changes after bad weather prevented him from trying out for this year's games. (Amy Stipdonk/Facebook)

Four athletes from Fort Simpson, N.W.T., missed trying out for the 2018 Arctic Winter Games because of bad weather — and now one of them is calling for a policy change.

Chris Stipdonk, 32, took home gold in the knuckle hop during the 2016 games in Nuuk, Greenland. This year, he's only going as an alternate.

Sport North had scheduled the athletes' flight from Fort Simpson to the tryouts in Inuvik on Jan. 18, but the flight was cancelled due to fog.

The tryouts were delayed by one day to wait for the Fort Simpson athletes to arrive.

Stipdonk and his wife, who was also competing, didn't want to risk missing the tryouts, so they drove more than six hours to Yellowknife to try to catch a flight there.

Chris Stipdonk battles his way through the knuckle hop at the Arctic Winter Games in Nuuk, Greenland in 2016. He won gold in the knuckle hop competition with a distance of 54.8 metres. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)

The bad weather persisted, and after two days Sport North went ahead with tryouts without the stranded AWG hopefuls because others were already in Inuvik waiting for their shot.

Two teenage snowshoers from Fort Simpson also missed the tryouts because of the bad weather.

Suggestion to try out via video turned down

Stipdonk says he tried to reach a solution with Sport North that would allow him to try out, including a suggestion to do it via live video, but his ideas were turned down.

"It seemed like it was a very unfair situation all around," he said.

"It would have been unfair to just automatically put me on the team … It's also unfair that I didn't get to try out at all."

Stipdonk doesn't blame Sport North — he believes the organization did everything it could to deal with the situation, but he wants to see a backup plan put in place for when athletes miss tryouts because of bad weather in the future.

"If you expect athletes to go all the way up North to some of these communities, you have to expect that there's going to be transportation issues," he said.

"I hope that two years from now they come up with a policy that will ... prevent situations that I'm in right now."

Sport North's executive director Doug Rentmeister told CBC the situation is unfortunate, and happens often.

He said the organization tries to time tryouts during times known for better weather, but it doesn't always work.

On Feb. 27 in the N.W.T. legislature, Municipal and Community Affairs Minister Caroline Cochrane said her department is also looking into solutions to make sure these situations don't happen in the future.

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