Snowshoe biathletes represent rural Alaska at Arctic Winter Games
Being nearly 3,000 miles from home, Hugo Apatiki from Gambell is one of Team Alaska’s athletes who traveled the farthest to compete at the Arctic Winter Games in the Northwest Territories in Canada.
"It’s exciting because I think my mom is the only one who’s gone out of the U.S. in my immediate family,” said 16-year-old Apatiki.
This is his first time in the snowshoe biathlon. He’s new to snowshoeing but knows how to handle a rifle.
"My dad takes me out seal hunting from time to time,” Hugo said. "When I was a little kid we would shoot guns. I hooked on to it and loved shooting.”
A few months before the games, ski biathlon coach Keith Conger had a spot open on the team and asked Hugo to fill it.
"I thought it was a pretty good, probably one time opportunity to Canada for Arctic Winter Games,” Hugo said.
While most athletes had a year to prepare, he had just two months. That means scrambling to find the required mukluks, which athletes must have to compete.
"We call them kamiks in Gambell. We were wondering where we were going to get some. We had no clue and we didn’t know who makes them. We asked my cousin Erica Apatiki, we asked her is she could make some and she was happy to make some,” Hugo said.
His cousin stitched St. Lawrence Island into the back so Hugo is never too far from home.
"I think it’s the seal skin my dad caught,” Hugo said.
Coach Conger is from Nome, and is the president of the Western Interior Ski Association. They reserve four spots in the Arctic Winter Games for rural athletes: Two in snowshoe biathlon, two in ski biathlon.
Conger knows the challenges the kids from the village face while training in the bush.
"We have a range in Nome that is a mile and a half past the end of the road so it’s not maintained at all. So the kids ski out to the range then put the range together,” Conger explained. "In Gambell, they’re not even using pull targets, they’re using paper targets.”
Carlee Merriner, 16, moved from Anchorage to Galena two years ago. Now she finds a different way to have fun outdoors.
"I have a friend who has a trap line, we go out with him a lot,” Carlee said.
The mayor of Galena taught her to shoot right after she moved to the community. Carlee snagged the other spot on the snowshoe biathlon team and is excited to represent the interior.
"It’s called Arctic Winter Games, it’s for the people in the Arctic and I think it’s important to show people our culture,” Carlee said.
Hugo said he’s not sure what to expect during the competition but plans to enjoy every minute of it.
"I’m going to try my best because it’s my first year,” Hugo said.
Snowshoe biathlon begins Monday at 7:30 a.m. Alaska Time.