Peninsula Winter Games on ice without new hosts

Mar 2, 2020

A staple central Kenai Peninsula family winter festival needs a new organizer. The Soldotna Chamber of Commerce announced that it would no longer put on the Peninsula Winter Games.

“Our capacity here at the chamber has just been maxed out. We need somebody who has the time to give it the love that it needs. Sometimes you have to pull back and say, ‘Is this really what we should be doing for our members and our community or would there be somebody better to take this on?’ It’s wasn’t an easy decision at all,” said Shanon Davis, executive director of the chamber.

This year’s games, held the third weekend in January, was the 44th event. 

The games were started in 1976 by Al York, with the Soldotna Lions, who wanted to give kids and families a chance to celebrate winter. John Torgerson took over when York died. The Kenai Peninsula Tourism and Marketing Council next took up the torch and passed it to the Soldotna chamber in 2009.

The games used to be a highlight of winter with several organizations and an army of volunteers involved.

“It used to be so many different people would step up and make things happen all over the peninsula. There’d be ice races out at the Decanter. Skijoring out at the airport. Dog sled races and the state champion dog-sled pull. Just everything. Lots of things going on,” Davis said.

Over the years, a lot of those organizations and volunteers went by the wayside. Davis said the event has not broken even for the chamber the last couple of years, but they also haven’t had time to devote to it like previous organizations. There used to be a fundraising committee that was quite successful in seeking sponsorships for the event. 

“As early as 20 years ago, I happen to know for a fact that they were bringing in around $30,000 sponsorship for the Peninsula Winter Games,” Davis said.

Though many of the outdoor activities have fallen away, the games still involve a Monopoly tournament for kids, a kids carnival and a free meal at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. There’s also an invitational hockey tournament held in conjunction with the event, and the games coordinate with the Native Youth Olympics put on by the Kenaitze Indian Tribe. Davis hopes all those things continue, plus a return to what the games have been.

“What I really hope is that the games can find a home with an organization that can act as the kind of catalyst to revitalize the games,” she said. “And that hosting entity could then work with other organizations and businesses throughout the area to kind of bring it back to its former glory.”

Davis said the Soldotna chamber will provide support to whatever organization wants to make sure the games see their 45th year. For more information, Davis can be reached at 262-9814.