The real stars of the show, though, are the aspiring athletes who have stars in their eyes. The annual benefit, now in its 28th year, raises money to help kids compete in skiing, bobsledding, luge, ice skating and other winter sports. "It's not cliché to have Olympic dreams in Park City," Shelley Gillwald, director of the Youth Wintersports Alliance, said. "Those dreams are very much alive."
They're alive, Gillwald said, in part because of world-class facilities, and partially because of the more than $3 million the Winter Welcome has raised over the years to defray the cost for athletes in 13 snow-sports organizations in town. These organizations give teens a chance to travel, train and compete for their spots on the podium rather than defer their dreams.
Jans founder and owner Jan Peterson, who established the benefit, said it was his eldest daughter Andrea and her junior alpine program that inspired him to start the gala. He saw that while he could afford to equip his daughter with boots and bindings, lessons and coaches, many of her friends couldn't afford it.
Peterson rallied his contacts from the ski world and residents to support his daughter's team, and the Winter Welcome came into being.
In its first 20 years, Winter Welcome focused on providing aid to the Park City ski racing program. Then, during the Olympics, Peterson and his board decided to expand their mission to include a variety of sports, forming the nonprofit, Youth Wintersports Alliance. The organization currently provides opportunities for kids to participate in aerials, figure skating, big mountain, half pipe, cross country, boarder cross, skeleton and bobsled.
Ginger Dobie, 24, wasn't alive when Peterson had his epiphany, but she owes a lot to the Winter Welcome. A mogul skier, Dobie moved to Utah from Idaho to train and attend the University of Utah. Even before wore a bib on her ski jacket, she knew she had a financial steep mountain to climb. It cost her $15,000 last year to travel to competitions in the Rocky Mountain West and train in Switzerland for a month. The fact that nationals were held in Park City saved her thousands of dollars, but she nevertheless had to bag some regional showdowns because she couldn't afford entry fees, gas, plane tickets, equipment and coaching.
Her Park City Freestyle Ski teammates forged ahead without her.
Dobie spent much of her summer as a restaurant server and math tutor. Now, although she has no plans to compete, she makes time to volunteer for the alliance that, she said, gave her the chance to travel internationally, make friends, and start a new life for herself.
If money was the mountain, the Winter Welcome was the chairlift the mechanism that allowed her to live what she loved.
"People think ski kids are rich," she said. "But the Winter Welcome is for people like me who couldn't afford to do it otherwise." Athletes depend on donations
An online auction and new scholarship are among the highlights for Jans Winter Welcome.
Organizers decided to launch the auction Web site, linked at www.ywsa.org, to give out-of-towners and early bidders a chance to get their hands on items such as dining packages, ski trips, equipment, boots, bindings, massages, table lamps and purses. "Because our auction is so big, we wanted to give guests and patrons a chance to preview some of the items," Gillwald said.
The John and Marva Warnock scholarship is a needs-based award given to a handful of applicants to offset sports-related expenses.
A ticket to the gala isn't cheap. It costs $250 to attend the event at Silver Lake Lodge. Festivities include a champagne reception, dinner, a silent auction and an opportunity drawing in which the winner will take home a 2009 Nissan Rogue from Tim Dahle.
The auction offers a considerable number of items to support about 15 sports. "My whole original thought was I wanted to contribute to the community," Peterson said. "There's still that need because there are so many sports that kids can choose from. It's the kids. It's the youth. They need a chance."
The gala usually raises more than $200,000. This year, Gillwald hopes to garner $150,000 in donations. "I think all nonprofits need to be grateful for what we can raise. We're all tightening our belts a little bit. We might need a different idea of what success is."
Proceeds from the Jans Winter Welcome benefit the nonprofit programs and junior athletes from the Youth WinterSports Alliance. They are AXIS Freeride, Figure Skating Club of Park City, FLY Freestyle, Ice Miners Youth Hockey, Park City Freestyle Ski Team, the Park City Nordic Ski Club, the Park City Ski Team, Park City Snowboard Team, the Park City Speedskating Club, Summit Ski Team, the Utah Athletic Foundation Bobsled and Skeleton Development Program, the Wasatch Freestyle Foundation, Deer Valley Freestyle, and the Wasatch Luge Club.
Gillwald wanted to thank Bill White Enterprises for presenting the event.
The 28th annual Jans Winter Welcome starts Saturday, Oct. 25, at 6 p.m. at Silver Lake Lodge at Deer Valley. For more info visit www.ywsa.org.