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Snow snake ‘part of the spirit of the games’

By Heather Hintze 5:50 PM March 18, 2014

The Dene game is based on Arctic hunting skills.

FAIRBANKS - When you see the five-foot-long wooden stick slide along the ice, it’s not hard to see how the sport of snow snake got its name.

Like the other Dene games at the Arctic Winter Games in Fairbanks, it has a deeper meaning behind it.

“When the hunter was on the ice looking for a seal or polar bear or moose or something, he sneaks up to the animal, getting as low as he can, and throws the spear and the spear travels on the top of the snow and if the moose or caribou is sleeping, hopefully they have a good score,” explained Chris Anderson, a Dene games official.

Competitors throw the spear underhanded down a long runway of ice. It’s not as easy as it sounds; some of the spears veer off course and slam into snow banks.

Athletes said the sport takes a lot of technique.

“You’ve got to hold it a certain way. You gotta make sure that when you release it, you release it evenly and flat,” said Marjorie Tahbone, a member of Team Alaska from Nome. “When you release it, you have to flick your wrist a certain way. It’s all technique and it’s really amazing to see all the skills that people have to do this game.”

Competitors say it makes them proud to play a sport their ancestors have been playing for generations.

“I think it’s wonderful we get this opportunity to compete in events that we can call our own, events our ancestors created,” Tahbone said.

Anderson agrees.

“It’s part of the spirit of the games,” said Anderson, who was also the MC for the event. “You talk about your grandfathers, your great grandfathers, they’ve done these games. It’s so neat the Arctic sports and Dene games are having these types of things, these indigenous games.”

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