Kenai Peninsula athletes helped Team Alaska take the most ulus and take the Hodgson Trophy at the Arctic Winter Games, held from March 6 to 11 in Nuuk, Greenland.
Alaska headed up the ulu count with 216 — 83 gold, 67 silver and 66 bronze. Yukon was next with 100 (23-41-36).
The Arctic Winter Games are held every two years and were held on the Kenai Peninsula in 2006.
In addition to offering opportunity for athletes, artists and performers, the games also recognize that in the North, friendship, cooperation and resource sharing are valued.
It is in that vein that the Hodgson Trophy is awarded for the best overall sportsmanship at the games.
The Kenai Peninsula had 12 athletes attend the games, which were all held in Greenland except for hockey, which was moved to Iqaluit, the capital city of the Territory of Nunavut in Canada. The move came because Greenland does not have a hockey rink.
Kenai Peninsula athletes were able to take home six gold ulus, six silver ulus and nine bronze ulus.
Riana Boonstra, a sophomore at Kenai Central high school, led the haul with three gold ulus, plus a silver, in showshoeing.
It was the third Arctic Winter Games for Boonstra. She also took one gold in 2012 in Whitehorse and two golds in 2014 in Fairbanks.
Boonstra is a cross-country skier for Kenai Central, but a hand injury kept her from fully participating in the Besh Cup, which qualifies skiers for Junior Nationals or the Arctic Winter Games.
So she jumped on the opportunity to go to Greenland and snowshoe.
“It was really cool there,” said Boonstra, whose parents, Todd and Kelli, also went as snowshoe coaches. “There were really colorful houses and you could just go adventuring through the rolling hills.
“There were not steep peaks, so you could just run through the hills.”
Boonstra said Team Alaska got a bit of unscheduled adventure when a three-hour layover in Kangralussuaq, Greenland, turned into a 36-hour layover.
“We spent the night there, and that introduced us to a different culture and all the foods they gave us,” Boonstra said.
Among those foods were seal fat, smoked halibut, shrimp and crab.
Boonstra also encountered difficulty in the 7.5-kilometer race.
“There was a superbad blizzard for the long-distance day,” she said. “I couldn’t see more than 20 feet ahead.
“A couple times I ran off the trail. I could tell because it started getting super deep.”
To make matters more difficult, the mukluks and snowshoes must be all natural, meaning the blizzard added considerable weight and discomfort to Boonstra’s run when snow started balling beneath her feet.
But the 2015 Mount Marathon Junior Girls champion took it in stride.
“It’s different from normal races in that they probably would have canceled the race due to bad weather,” Boonstra said. “They said, ‘Let’s just go for it,’ and everybody did their best to work through the conditions.”
Boonstra’s junior female golds came in the relay, the 5K and the 7.5K, while her silver came in the short distance combined.
Kenai’s Leah Fallon also picked up gold in the juvenile female relay.
Kenai Central junior Abby Beck did not have to overcome a blizzard for her gold medal in volleyball, but she did have to overcome Team Alberta North.
In the preliminary round, Team Alaska went 3-1, losing 25-21, 25-12 and 25-22 to Team Alberta North.
Team Alaska defeated Team Northwest Territories 25-12, 25-17 and 26-24 in the semifinals, then overcame Team Alberta North 18-25, 25-14, 25-23, 17-25 and 15-9 in the finals.
Beck said she actually missed the first tryout for the team due to her commitment to the Kenai Central basketball team, but a month and a half before the Arctic Winter Games, she played with the team up in Anchorage and realized she would be missing out on a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“It was definitely the highest level of volleyball I’ve ever played at,” she said. “That I can actually compete at that level is a nice reassurance.”
Beck said the team meshed throughout the tournament, and that showed in the final against Alberta North.
“We did a lot better job containing their outside hitter, and that helped us a lot,” she said.
And she formed just as many memories off the floor of the colorful houses and rolling hills of Greenland.
“It was like a fairy-tale town,” Beck said. “It was unbelievable. There was a church by the water, and it was overcast with snow, and there was light coming from the top of the church.”
The following is a list of ulus won by peninsula athletes other than Boonstra, Beck and Fallon:
Ethan Pitzman, Homer — bronze in bantam hockey.
Jimmy Gao, Homer — bronze in singles junior male table tennis, silver in doubles junior male table tennis, bronze in doubles junior mix and silver with Team Alaska in junior mix.
Julianne Wilson, Kenai — bronze in Arctic sports open female kneel jump.
Brenna Eubank, Kenai — bronze in junior female hockey.
Jade Robuck, Ninilchik — silver in Dene games juvenile female hand games.
Koby Vinson, Soldotna — bronze in 7.5-kilometer mass start cross-country ski, silver in juvenile male 3-by-3 cross-country ski relay.
Ryan Glenzel, Soldotna — gold in Dene games junior male snow snake, bronze with Team Alaska in Dene games junior male pole push.
Cade Appelhans, Soldotna — bronze in bantam male hockey.