As the stretch limos pulled up, the 12-year-olds exhaled in the cold air, welcoming the arrival of another winter. Who would be stepping out onto the long red carpet heading up to Silver Lake Lodge? Sundance celebrities? No -- guests at Jan's Winter Welcome!
More than the first dusting of snow on Jupiter, the vision of Jan Peterson has for 32 years signaled the onset of winter in Park City. In a city where the passage of time is marked by fundraisers, Jans Winter Welcome is the granddaddy of them all. When you think of Ted Ligety, think of Jans. When you think of Lindsey Van and Sarah Hendrickson, think of Jans. It's an integral part of the culture and fabric that is Park City.
"It truly takes an entire community to get to the top of the Olympic podium, I know this first hand," said two-time Olympic medalist Shannon Bahrke. Shannon didn't grow up in Park City, but she's an adopted daughter. "I don't know what I would have done without my family, friends, coaches, neighbors and even strangers to pick me up when I was down, encourage me when I could almost taste victory. Most importantly, they believed in me when no one else did."
When you walk the red carpet at Jans -- arm in arm with one of the thousands of kids in youth winter sports programs in Park City -- it's all about that belief. It's about grooming dreams. In an active outdoors community, it's a cause that's well embraced in support of Park City's Youth Winter Sports Alliance.
"As a young girl, I was surrounded by many of the athletes I looked up to and was always encouraged to work hard and pursue my dreams," said two-time Olympian Emily Cook, who has made her home here for over decade. "It's an honor to have the chance to be that person for other upcoming athletes. Sport can make such a huge difference in a young person's life, from developing life skills like teamwork, confidence and conflict resolution to simple joy and happiness with one's life."
"Jans is like a movie premiere of the coming season," said Olympic champion Billy Demong, who has made Park City his home and is raising a family here.
Being the home of the U.S. Ski Team for more than 40 years and the site of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games has made Park City one of the planet's foremost Olympic communities. Kids here want to compete -- there are over 1,000 in 13 local sports clubs! Jans Winter Welcome bolsters their hopes by allowing YWSA to provide more than $60,000 in scholarships for youth athletes plus $250,000 in grants to local clubs -- including an introduction to winter sports for more than 850 students in the innovative Get Out & Play elementary school program.
Kids in the program also learn about healthy lifestyles and sportsmanship and gain confidence -- all building blocks for life. And you could see that in the exuberance of the kids walking the red carpet Saturday night. As they assembled to welcome their guests, the kids were nervous but they knew their job and the importance of it.
"The people are coming here tonight to help us with what we're doing," said Axis Freeride slopestyle skier Henry Robarge, just 12. He and buddy Finn DeBaun were all decked out in new ties for the evening. Alongside them were Patrick Fischer and Alix Wilkinson -- both wearing their Park City Ski Team jackets and sharing hometown boy Ted Ligety as a hero. While Finn and Henry like to throw rodeos and backflips, Patrick and Alix talked about speed. But all of them also knew why they were there. "Everyone being here tonight and spending money helps us a lot," said Alix.
Amidst the preseason cocktail conversations and fevered bidding, it was an evening about dreams. Take a minute today and think about our community. Think about the opportunities we provide for kids. Think about the Olympic venues and the USSA Center of Excellence. And think about the dreams that we empower as a community for those young athletes who walked us into Jans Winter Welcome.
One of the most experienced communications professionals in skiing and snowboarding, Tom Kelly is a veteran of eight Olympics and serves as vice president, Communications for the Park City-based U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. A Wisconsin native, he and his wife Carole Duh have lived in Park City since 1988 when he's not traveling the world with the team. Each week he'll take you Behind the Gold to tell you the inside story of our nation's top skiers and snowboarders.