FAIRBANKS – The Dene games celebrate Native cultures and traditions from around the Arctic.

Monday, competitors tried their hand at the stick pull, which takes a little grease and a lot of grip.

Although it may seem like a simple sport, the stick pull has deep cultural roots, especially here in Alaska.

“The stick pull represents when you’re fishing at fish camp and you’re pulling salmon or whatever other fish out of the wheel or the net and you pull it up and it trains your grip, pulling the fish out because it’s so slimy,” said Matthew Evans, a competitor from Fairbanks.

It was the first of the Dene games played at the 2014 Arctic Winter Games.

A stick was greased up with Crisco and then competitors took their marks, standing shoulder to shoulder.

“When it’s coated in grease it’s really slippery and it’s hard to grip,” said Palmer competitor Misty May Wilmarth Agoff. “So the best thing you can have is a good grip.”

If you can’t pull the stick out of your competitor’s hand, the goal is to keep it behind you for eight seconds; then the match is yours.

“I love watching this event because they make certain faces or they’re all doing different things,” Wilmarth Agoff said.

The men had the most extreme expressions, wincing and turning red as they tried to pull the stick away.

While it’s still a competition, for the athletes it’s more about camaraderie.

“They have better sportsmanship,” Wilmarth Agoff said. “Like with other games they’re more about competing. This is more about making friends and continuing the cultural stuff.”

The Dene games celebrate the little things that make the Arctic unique and the ancient culture that still thrives.

“Every single one of these games has a background for different things you do,” Wilmarth Agoff said.

“I think it teaches our youth a lot about our culture. It gets them into it and it’s really active,” Evans said. “It’s our way of life and our traditions.”

Those traditions take center stage at the Arctic Winter Games and highlights what makes the circumpolar north special.