Despite warm temperatures and sporadic rain, the fourth annual Winter Special Olympics drew a record turnout of around 200 athletes at the Dartmouth Skiway on Saturday, over twice the turnout of last year’s event. A further 300 volunteers attended to ensure its smooth running.
The event, which was sponsored by The Dartmouth Club of the Upper Valley, matched mentally challenged participants from the Upper Valley region to snowshoe, cross country skiing and downhill skiing race events.
Despite the enthusiastic support of the Dartmouth and Upper Valley communities, the uncooperative weather and minimal amount of snow at the Skiway had to be countered with a bit of creativity.
“On Wednesday afternoon, it was pouring rain and we thought we might not be able to run the events,” events coordinator Peter Blyler ’61 said. “The Skiway crew went out on Thursday and brought snow off of Holt’s Ledge. They laid it for about 100 meters parallel to the Skiway road.”
The 100-meter lanes of snow were used for both the cross country skiing and snowshoe events, as the cross country ski tracks were destroyed before the snowshoe races occurred.
“While the terrain was slushy and icy, and bare spots were present, they did not affect the downhill ski races,” Adam Platz ’08 said. Platz served as the liason between Ski Patrol and the Events Coordinator.
Ski Patrol volunteers served as mountain guides, escorting athletes up the chairlifts and skiing down to the race starts with them. Each skiing group of 65 had two guides who waited at the start and finish lines of each race. According to Platz, participating athletes ranged in ages from around 10 to 30, with most competitors being young adults.
The Skiway also hosted the Dartmouth Outing Club Winter Weekend on Saturday, which offered free rentals, lift tickets and lessons to Dartmouth students. The DOC had planned to offer free ice skating at Occom Pond as part of the weekend but was forced to reschedule on account of poor skating conditions.
DOC president Anne O’Hagen ’06 said that the event ran well despite the weather.
“Most of the participants had absolutely no experience skiing or snowboarding, but everyone was making it down the hill by the end of the lesson,” O’Hagen said. “The DOC was so thrilled to help get these students outside and enjoying the New Hampshire winter.”
Further crowding the Skiway facility, many family members and coaches also turned out to support the Special Olympics athletes.
“The athletes come with their coaches and families. One team had 20 athletes and brought about 15 additional family members,” Platz said.
Because the Special Olympics strives for a non-competitive atmosphere, the organization awarded ribbons to all athletes, as well as for the first six places. Anyone who participated in this regional competition is eligible to move on to the state competition.
“The coaches drill into the athletes’ minds that it’s about trying hard, not just winning,” Platz said.
Volunteers represented the Dartmouth Ski Patrol and several Greek organizations and sports teams, as well as the Upper Valley community, according to volunteer coordinator James Adler ’60. Blyler estimated that about half of the games’ volunteers were Dartmouth students, with the other half coming from the Upper Valley community. A management team of 20 people coordinated various aspects of the Special Olympics, ranging from lunch to competition details.
Platz said that he was happy to have the chance to work with the mentally disabled.
“From the ski patrol point of view we got to know them, find out what they like to do, where they are from, how old they are. It wasn’t just impersonal — you get to talk to these people and it’s really interesting,” Platz said.