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Welcoming winter with the stars

Adia Waldburger, of the Record staff

There may not have been any ballroom dancing at the 27th annual Jans Winter Welcome, held at the Silver Lake Lodge in Deer Valley on Saturday night, but the speedskaters still took center stage.

Olympic gold medallist Derek Parra led the festivities, serving as master of ceremonies for the fundraiser’s main event, the live auction.

"I’m just hoping to have some fun," Parra said before the auction. "I’m a people person."

Fellow gold-medal winner Eric Heiden did his part, contributing a unique package, which gave the highest bidder the chance to train like a Tour de France star.

But the bonified star of the evening was speedskater and Dancing With the Stars winner Apolo Ohno, who made his first-ever appearance at the affair. Ohno said he came as a guest to observe what the evening was all about and orient himself to Park City. The skater and dancer is planning to move to Utah soon to join the rest of the U.S. Short Track Speedskating Team, which recently moved to the Salt Lake area.

Jans Winter Welcome, which raises money for the Youth WinterSports Alliance to give local youth more opportunities to enjoy and excel in winter sports, broke the evening into a number of different parts. Different rooms housed bronze-, silver- and gold-level silent auctions. And for every taste bud, other rooms had hors d’ oeuvres, cocktails, a main course and an extensive dessert table.

But the focus of the evening was the live auction. The main event offered party goers the opportunity to ski with legends, golf in Sedona, Arizona, fly fish in Alaska or even have a group of firefighters cook a private meal. Another was Heiden’s cycling camp, which will mimic the Pyrenees-to-Alps stage of the Tour de France. Heiden and his medical partner, Max Testa, offered a similar camp last summer that had considerable success. The package includes testing, educational talks and other benefits, all in the mountains of Park city.

"It’s a place that people come from all over to cycle in," Heiden said.

With the banter and enthusiasm of Parra and auctioneer Larry Flynn, would-be bidders received full-package descriptions, celebrity guest appearances and constant encouragement before entering their five-figure bids. Parra began with a heart-warming story of the generosity of his own community, which helped him become a star in roller skating and later speedskating. The story helped the crowd understand the importance of the Winter Welcome.

"On the Olympic podium, I saw all of the people that helped me," Parra said. "That’s what the night is all about. It’s the passion of helping a future Olympian get to the next level."

The evening wrapped up with cigars and coffee drinks on the Silver Lake patio on Adirondack chairs painted by members of each of the teams in the Youth Winter Sports Alliance.

According to Youth Winter Sports Alliance Executive Director Shelley Gillwald, it was a successful year on par with where she had hoped it would be in terms of monies raised.

"I just continue to be amazed at how generous people were in the community," Gillwald said. "From the sponsors like Bill White Enterprises, to the major donors who purchased tables and buy the auction items, down to the retailers and restaurants that provide items, and the people who purchase the drawing tickets down to the volunteers."

Gillwald says it takes well over a thousand people to make the event successful.

It is huge effort to put it on, "she said "I continue to be truly touched by all that people do people do to help junior athletes in this community."

With an Alpine World Cup held in Austria this weekend, the event was without a number of the famous athletes like Ted Ligety that highlighted the affair last year. Still, a number of other Olympic and elite athletes joined in the event, including the U.S Luge Team. Despite being based in Lake Placid, N.Y., the sliders were in town to begin a week-long training session at the Utah Olympic Park track. Olympian and native Utahn Preston Griffall, a doubles luge athlete, said he remembered working at the event as a junior athlete.

"I came to a couple of these," he said. "I actually helped out to escort attendees into the event."

It’s those kind of full-circle stories that Jan’s Winter Welcome hopes to tap into for years to come.

"I’ve seen what sports can do," Heiden said. "This event is helping kids who live here."


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