The Park Record editorial, April 24-27, 2010 |

The Park Record editorial, April 24-27, 2010

Gillwald built strong network for young winter athletes

After the 2002 Winter Games, almost every kid in Summit County dreamed of becoming an Olympian and, with a whole mountain full of world-class winter sports facilities at their doorstep, dozens of grassroots sports clubs were formed.

But as local parents quickly learned, winter sports are expensive. The cost of equipment, lift tickets, coaching, and transportation add up quickly and for many families is prohibitive.

In 2003 one local parent decided to help level the playing field. Shelley Gillwald created the Youth Winter Sports Alliance and began cajoling an array of youth-oriented sports groups into working together to raise funds. Under the YWSA’s banner she also helped to establish programs at schools throughout Summit and Wasatch counties, allowing hundreds of students to take free and low-cost ski and snowboard lessons.

Fortunately, a handful of the community’s well established sports organizations were willing to lend their support. The Park City Ski Team, for instance, opened up its annual Jan’s Winter Welcome fundraiser to more than a dozen winter sports organizations under the alliance’s umbrella and the local ski areas offered thousands of lift tickets and lesson coupons to the growing field of participants.

These days, according to the Alliance’s website, the organization contributes more than $200,000 every year to more than 13 groups of aspiring young winter sports athletes in disciplines ranging from alpine and Nordic skiing to bobsledding and figure skating.

Much of the success of the Alliance is directly due to Gillwald’s perseverance and energy. Few were able to resist her pleas for help whether for scholarships, lift tickets or attendance at school assemblies. As a result, Park City is likely to see many more local medalists coming up through the Olympic ranks.

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Even more importantly, thanks to Gillwald, many of the children in Park City who would otherwise be left looking up at the mountain and wishing they could play too now have a chance to ski and skate and even luge at an Olympic venue.

Gillwald stepped down from her post at the helm of the YSLA this month, but she has left a strong legacy that will continue to benefit children and their families throughout Summit and Wasatch counties.