Kelowna, British Columbia has garnered the honor of serving as the first North American city for the winter International Children's Games this January. Big White Ski Resort will host the alpine skiing and snowboarding events.

The International Children's Games started in 1968 and are sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee. Games are held annually in summer, while winter games are held less frequently. Kelowna's event, the fifth winter International Children's Games, is scheduled for Jan. 26-31. Athletes ages 12 to 15 years old and their coaches representing cities around the world will gather in Kelowna for a week of sporting events and festivals with emphasis on understanding different cultures and creating bonds of friendship, much like the Olympics.

"International Children's Games organizers have been Euro-centric for 40 years," Eric Stansfield, spokesperson for the Kelowna organizing committee, told "We're starting a brand new precedent hosting the first winter games in North America. With Vancouver hosting the Olympic Games last winter, it's a great tie-in being in the same province."

Athletes will compete in seven disciplines: Alpine skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, curling, figure skating, speed skating, and ice hockey. This is the first winter International Children's Games that will offer competitions in ice hockey and speed skating. "If you have winter games in Canada, you'd better have ice hockey," added Stansfield. Big White hosts the giant slalom and skicross for alpine skiers and the slopestyle and snowcross events for snowboarders.

A full delegation with athletes in every sport is planning to come from Innsbruck, a former winter Olympic Games host. Cities in Australia, Pakistan, and China also plan to send delegations. "We're hoping for 50 cities and 700-1,000 athletes," said Stansfield. Cities from around the world can still enter; registration closes Oct. 15.

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