Heading into the 2004 Arctic Winter Games (AWG) hosted by the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and Fort McMurray, this writer asked local sports buffs, who they thought should light the cauldron at the Opening Ceremonies.
Perry Pugh, owner of Kazaam Skate and Snow, in the role of coach for Team Alberta North snowboarding contingent, made this suggestion.
“Cody Burchell. Small in size but big in heart and ability. He was at the 2002 Arctic Winter Games (Nuuk Greenland and Iqaluit, Nunavut Canada)and represented Alberta North supremely on and off the (snowboarding) slopes. His good nature is infectious and he stokes out anyone around him.”
The 2004 AWG cauldron would be officially lit by the Ladouceur family coming in by sled dog.
Burchell, now 35, looks back with humility at the recommendation from his coach.
“Perry was our coach and more or less, the big brother I never had. For him to say that…it was very special.”
Burchell admits that the 2002 AWG in Greenland was, “My best AWG experience of the three I attended, even though I did not medal.”
He continued: “I was 14-or-15 and it was awesome. It was an experience for sure. I met a lot of cool people in Greenland and I am still in contact with a few people from Alaska and some of the guys from Greenland.
“The course there wasn’t up-to-par and they were struggling a bit as it was a little icy. I realized how spoiled we are here (Vista Ridge All Seasons Park). We have a great hill here and they always did a great job in setting up the course and changing things up. The whole snowboard community was close and boosted each other up.”
He would claim a gold, silver and two bronze AWG Ulus overall at Vista Ridge All Seasons Park in 2004.
“I did pretty good,” said a modest Burchell, who is now a journeyman carpenter. “ I loved travelling and going away to see new places but to compete in front of friends and family was a cool experience. You also had the upper hand for sure. I had been riding there my whole life. Knowing the weather and man-made snow… I feel it was a bit of an advantage.”
A proud Sue Burchell said to this writer back then, “The one special moment for me (2004 AWG) was being present at the snowboarding events when my son Cody won a medal for his hard work. As you well know, any mom would be very proud, puffed-up chest and all.”
Two years later at the 2006 AWG held in Kenai Peninsula Borough, Alaska, Burchell broke out with a four gold Ulu performance.
Not bad for a kid who stood 4-foot-11, later having a growth spurt after high school to his present-day 5-foot-6.
“For snowboarding, it is not necessarily better being tall. Short of stature, my centre of gravity was better and I had a better sense of balance.”
Starting snowboarding around the age of “9 or 10” Burchell has never tried skiing.
“I didn’t ski then and I can’t ski to this day. If you want to see something funny, put me on a pair of skis.”
Burchell continues to snowboard and is currently teaching two of his children Brixton, 9 and Laiken, 7 along with partner Kayla Ladouceur. Waiting in the wings patiently is 8-month-old Milo.
What significance do the Ulu medals have in Burchell’s life?
“I was looking at them the other day in fact. They bring back great memories of travelling and the cool people I met. It was an experience. Even just the training up to it. I tell friends that have kids, ‘If you can get them into the Arctic Winter Games, I highly recommend it.’ ”
In the AWG archives (the event started in 1970) you will find the surname Voigt with hometown mentioned as Fort McMurray, Alberta. The sport affiliation is snowboarding.
At the 2008 AWG in Yellowknife, you will find that a Voigt, Brooke first name, hit the slopes for five gold Ulus.
Fast forward to 2012 AWG in Whitehorse, and once again you will find a Voigt, but with the first name Jordann, also with five gold Ulus under snowboard.
They are sisters.
Jordann came from an athletic family that took advantage of the Saprae Creek lifestyle with Vista Ridge All Seasons Park nearby.
“I was on a ski harness when I was about three,” recalls Jordann, now 26 years of age. “I was the last kid in the family (older sister Brooke and brother Steven) to take up snowboarding when I was about seven.
“We weren’t a family that went on vacations to lay on the beach. It was snowboarding or canoeing and camping in the mountains.”
Unlike her older sister Brooke, who would take her snowboarding skills to the 2018 and 2022 Winter Olympic Games, Jordann admits that she was not into the competitive side of the sport.
“I definitely didn’t go into the (2012 AWG) expecting anything…especially since I had never done some of the events. The only real event I had done was slopestyle…hitting a few jumps and rails.”
Wearing bib No. 20 in Juvenile Female snowboarding, Jordann would slide to her first gold Ulu at Mount Sima in Slopestyle on March 5, 2012.
The next day it was gold Ulus after runs in Banked Slalom, Half Pipe and Snowboard Cross followed by her efforts contributing to a Team Alberta North snowboarding gold.
This would be the only major winter competition for Jordann.
“I enjoyed snowboarding, not for the competition aspect of it. Now if we are talking softball or baseball, you will see the competitive side come out.”
She keeps her Ulu medals in a keepsake box. “I’m a big sentimental person and once in a while I go through them to look at various things and I see them.
“It was a lot of fun and I got to meet new people from all around the world. It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing, especially for me. I didn’t regret not going to others as I took full advantage of the one I did attend.”
As an 11-year-old gymnast, flying to the 2014 AWG in Fairbanks, Alaska may be a bit intimidating.
“I was definitely various nervous traveling without my parents,” recalls Fort McMurray gymnast Taylor Boulton, now 20 years of age. “It was a bit nerve-wracking representing Fort McMurray and being part of Team Alberta at my first international competition. But once I got there it wasn’t as bad as I thought.”
Boulton, who is now enrolled in Police Studies at MacEwan University in Edmonton, had started gymnastics at the age of two at the local Norfort Gymnastics Association.
“From what I was told by my parents, it was hard to get me to leave the gymnastics club…I loved it so much.”
Her dedication to the sport led to three Ulus. Gold in uneven bars and bronze in vault with a Team Alberta gold part of the equation.
“It was very exciting and very rewarding I still have them (Ulus) hanging up in my room back home. I was overwhelmed with excitement to be there.”
No longer competing, Boulton finds time between studies to assist at North Edmonton Gymnastic under head coach Sandy Boisvert.
Boisvert had also coached Boulton along with countless other local gymnasts during her long tenure at the Norfort Gymnastics Association.
Of the overall AWG experience, Boulton concludes: “The whole sportsmanship atmosphere that goes with being part of a team and learning and meeting new people from other teams and what their training is like.”
Kira Lynn Mullally
Following the completion of the 2004 AWG, where she was part of Team Alberta’s gold gymnastics team, Kira Lynn Mullally decided to try a new sport.
A pretty big decision when you are only 10 years of age.
“It really wasn’t my decision,” said Mullally, in a telephone from Geneva, Switzerland where she works for The United Nations. “I was no longer eligible because of classification, so I switched to Arctic Sports.”
Arctic Sport includes the sports of One-Foot High Kick, Two-Foot High Kick, Alaskan High Kick, Kneel Jump, Sledge Jump, Triple Jump, Arm Pull, Airplane, One Hand Reach, Head Pull and Knuckle Hop.
These are sports athletic in nature with many similar to martial arts or gymnastics movements.
“A lot of former gymnastic teammates went into it. If you were strong and flexible it was usually an easy transition.”
Mullally’s specialty would be the One-Foot High Kick, an event where the competitor stands on one foot, jumps in the air and hits a ball or piece of seal such as a ringed seal, which is suspended from a gallows and then lands on the same foot.
At the 2006 AWG, she would place 5th.
A bronze medal in the event would be captured at the 2010 AWG in Grande Prairie, Alberta with a jump of 6 feet 9 inches.
But it would be at the 2008 AWG that the 14-year-old former gymnast, stretches out and goes sky high for a One-Foot High Kick of 7-feet!
The 7-foot mark was an impressive eight inches higher than her preliminary attempt the day before.
“I guess it was the pressure of the finals or that there was a much bigger crowd (St. Joseph Catholic School),” recalls Mullally, 28.
Of preparation, Mullally is honest in her answer, “I didn’t train a lot (for One-Foot High Kick). It wasn’t something that you would train all year for. I trained maybe three or four times leading up to the (AWG).
“But you do need the strength and flexibility to perform. It was a great experience.”
Not everyone will have an Ulu placed around their necks at these 2023 Arctic Winter Games.
But we may pretty well guarantee that for all it will be, “A Great Experience.”
About the author
Curtis J. Phillips
Residing in Fort McMurray since 1982, Curtis J. Phillips is a productive sports journalist in print/electronic mediums. He enjoys researching local sports history and was Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference Sports Writer from 2008-2019. Recognized as Canada’s Basketball Historian, he is an advocate for community volunteerism.