Not the Arctic Olympic trials nor the annual 300-mile dog sled race, not even the appearance last week of The Flying Fathers, a trick-shot squad of hockey-playing clerymen from Ontario, has broken the winter doldrums here like the Great Satellite Hunt.
Normally the 10,900 residents of Canada's northernmost city batten down the hatches for winter, bracing themselves for the fierce Arctic winds that sweep in across the tundra and temperatures that swoop to 50 below - and hang there for days.
The bitter cold is still here but it has been virtually ignored this week in the excitement of the hunt for the downed Soviet Cosmos 954 satellite.
Packs of reporters and U.S. and Canadian camera crews are shuttling back and forth through the icy streets seeking news and filling Yellowknife's two hotels. A U.S. network crew hailed a taxi here last night and ran up a $160 bill, causing dismay among the driver's less fortunate colleagues. The News of the North, one of the two local weeklies, ran a banner headline, "Sputnik Down in Northwest Territories" - beating the opposition Yellowknifer and the scientific search parties by about four days in identifying the satellite fragments.
"It's getting quite hectic," said Alex Salemink, editor of the News of the North. Salemink pulled out all the stops, sending his lone photographer off in a chartered plane to get exclusive photos for his 5,400 subscirbers - many of whom speak the Eskimo dialect and cannot read English - of the satellite fragments.
Marie Ruman, the janitorial service operator who spotted the flaming fragments of the satellite as it reentered the atmosphere over Yellowknife before dawn a week ago, has been offered cash for her exclusive story from three U.S. publications. She won't say how much or who unless the offer is topped, but she said she had stopped giving interviews.
"They told me, 'sketch what you saw and we'll buy them,'" she said as she worked away feverishly at her impressions of the event in her living room yesterday.
The enormity of a close encounter of at least the first kind was too much for the 51-year-old Ruman however. She broke off sketching to repeat her tale for a visitor.
"It was so very low that I thought it was coming in right here on my doorstep," she said. When Canadian military officials suggested Friday that the satellite may have disintegrated and never reached earth at all, she angrily called Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau's office to complain.
"They changed their minds," she said triumphantly. "I don't know if I had anything to do with it but I know there was more to it than that."
At Baker Lake, some 600 miles east of here, Canadian military authorities had another problem. They called together many of the Eskimo fur trading community's 1,000 residents at the local adult education center and interrupted the weekend showing of the movie "Dog Day Afternoon" to explain carefully that they may have spotted a radioactive piece of the satellite nearby.
The detailed scientific explanation was probably lost on most of the community's residents, whose dialect contains nothing to describe either radiation or satellites.
Military officials said they were fairly confident that they reached all the hunters and trappers - 13 of them - who are the only persons known to be out on the vast snow-swept expanse along the satellite's path.
The message, a telegram delivered by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police via radio, warned that any unusual objects should be given a wide berth and reported. For those who didn't get the message fast enough, the Mounties suggested that all radioactive satellite parts be turned in to the nearest police station.
Four of the sly adventurers who did come across a chunk of the satellite told the press yesterday they were in the Arctic to escape as much as possible from the complicated technical world. The four said they decided to try their hand at the primitive test of survival in an Arctic winter.
The irony that they ended up enmeshed in a complex saga of high technology and international diplomacy was disturbing, they said.
"It's completely bizarre," said 26-year-old Las Vegas biologist Christopher Normant. "We tried to get away from all this but I guess you can't do it anymore. It's totally disrupted our winter."