Mukluks make the difference in snowshoeing at the Arctic Winter Games

Every athlete on the Team Yukon snowshoe team won a medal this week. Most relied on family-made footwear. 

‘It’s definitely cool to have something made from a family member’

A person races in a snowshoe event.
A snowshoe racer competes on Day 4 of the 2023 Arctic Winter Games, in Fort McMurray, Alta. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Certain coaches will tell you — it's not the gear that makes the difference, it's the training. 

But that old trope might fall flat among the snowshoers competing at the Arctic Winter Games underway in Wood Buffalo, Alta.

Especially those from Team Yukon, which saw every one of its snowshoe athletes on the podium this week. 

Taiga Buurman won gold for his team. And his mukluks? 

"My mom made these for me and she's very good at doing her thing," he says. "She even made ones for my dad; they've held up for quite a long time.

"It's definitely cool to have something made from a family member."

Team Yukon members show off their snowshoes.
Competitors from Team Yukon show off their snowshoes. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Johannes Benkert won a silver ulu. His mukluks came from his mom's partner. 

"They're from his old team and their motto is actually 'Let's Motor,'" Benkert says. "So one boot has an L for 'Let's' and the other boot has an M for 'Motor,' so every single time they got slow and looked down at their feet, they'd see it and then they'd be even faster."

Mathias Frostad also earned a silver for the team. 

"My grandma, I think, made these ones for somebody else and I just kind of inherited them,"  he says. 

Unlike many of the athletes in the games, Victor Marie has a lifetime of snowshoeing behind him. He got his start while setting rabbit snares in the woods around Fort Smith, N.W.T., and has attended several Arctic Winter Games as an athlete, coach and this year, as a technical official. 

Now at 78, and with his hard snowshoeing days behind him, Marie is embracing the chance to share his knowledge. 

Close up of man in glasses, smiling.
Victor Marie has been snowshoeing since he was growing up in Fort Smith, N.W.T. and loves to share his knowledge with the next generation. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

While footwear is important for any snowshoer, so is the technique used to tie the snowshoes on — especially in these Games, where traditional snowshoes are the rule, and no modern metal snowshoes are allowed.

Earlier this week, Marie shared his deft method for tying the shoes on with the entire snowshoe team — all eight kids — from Nunavik. 

Two ended up on the podium in their first snowshoe competition ever. 

"I was impressed because nobody knew how to tie snowshoes, nobody knew how to run on snowshoes," he told Marc Winkler, host of CBC's the Trailbreaker

"They were really excited when they were on the podium." 

But in Marie's opinion, that's not what these games are about. 

"Everyone's here to have fun," he said. "An ulu is just an ulu, right? Friendship is more important."

With files from Natalie Pressman, Marc Winkler