It’s a competition almost as big as the sporting events at the Arctic Winter Games—who can collect the most pins.

“This is Greenland’s set last games, this is Greenland’s set this games,” Fairbanks athlete Brandon Vanlandingham pointed out.

He has too many pins to put on a lanyard, so he stores them on a bright yellow towel he carts around in his backpack. When he’s not competing at the Dene Games, he’s collecting.

“Ever since the 2014 games, when I was a volunteer. I started with no pins and ended up with a lot,” he said.

His teammate, Ryan Glenzel from Kenai, keeps his in a scrapbook.

“Back in Kenai, my sister has this big photo album filled with pins. These are all just duplicates that I can trade. I’m going to add to the collection when I get home,” Glenzel said.

Pin trading is a fun way to meet players from other teams. Team Alaska gives each of its athletes three sets of the state pins—which make up a polar bear this year—to encourage them to get to know their foreign competitors off the playing field.

During the stick pull Vanlandingham was trying to make a deal with Jedrek Dendys from Team Yukon, who had an impressive display laid out on a blue scarf.

“In 2012, I was too young to compete in the games so all I did was pin trade. I got a lot of pins from that,” he said.

Each contingent has its own special set: Alberta North’s collection forms a buffalo, Nunavut’s 2014 set was a ice fisherman.

“The pins always represent something about the culture too,” Vanlandingham said. “It really helps bring people together.”

Pin trading has picked up in popularity the past few years, but pins were also part of the first games in 1970.

An almost-complete collection is at the Alaska State Museum in Juneau with nearly 1,000 pins.