The Canaan Valley Ski Resort and White Grass Ski Touring Center continued their tradition of hosting the Special Olympics of West Virginia Winter Sports Classic. Cars packed into the lots at 9 a.m. on Friday loaded with volunteers and competitors. Despite less than ideal conditions, whipping winds and a thin base layer of snow, spirits were high entering the games.
Athlete Brandon Riffle first attended the winter games in 2006 after one of his middle school teachers recommended it to him. “I’ve been coming ever since, because it’s so much fun. I learned how to ski to come out here. I like seeing the snow, skiing and having fun with my friends,” Riffle said.
Stationed in the corner of the White Grass lodge, Event Organizer Janet Scarcelli managed this year’s cross country and snowshoeing events. As a volunteer with the Games Management Team, Scarcelli focuses her efforts on the winter games. “Volunteers kind of pick the sports that work best for us to help with,” Scarcelli said. She specifically learned to ski so that she could volunteer as a ski instructor for the Special Olympics.
“We’re all volunteers, and we all come in from different areas to organize the games,” Scarcelli said. Athletes and volunteers came to the valley from all over West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.
Around 100 athletes competed through the different categories, including snowboarding, alpine skiing, cross country skiing, and snowshoeing. In addition to the athletes, there were about 100 volunteers that facilitated the games. The events were all held on Friday. “It’s a pretty huge endeavor,” Scarcelli said.
The cross country and snowshoe events included 50 meter, 100 meter, and 300 meter races. There were time trail events for alpine skiing and snowboarding, as well as giant slalom, super glide, and glide events.
Retired teacher Ed Brosch traveled from Charles Town, West Virginia to volunteer. “As a member of a Knights of Columbus, we support the Special Olympics. Volunteers help with timing, help at the start gate, provide support along the race route,” Brosch said.
The Winter Sports Classic began in Maryland, but the intention was always to have the games reside in West Virginia. “We always wanted to utilize West Virginia venues. About 20 years ago we were able to work it out with Canaan and White Grass,” Scarcelli said.
The event offers a platform for competition and athletic training, but the emotional and social aspects are just as important to volunteers, organizers, and participants alike. “Often times it’s the same athletes that come year after year after year. Whenever I see them, watching the growth that Special Olympics offers these folks is awesome. Through the course of Special Olympics they’re able to find themselves, boost their self esteem, get jobs, and do all those things we all strive to do,” Scarcelli said.
After 16 years of competing, athlete Nate Critchfield keeps coming back to Canaan Valley to participate in the Special Olympics. “I just heard about this in a cross country meet, and at first I wasn’t sure if I’d be good at this,” Critchfield said. “I like entertaining folks, and hanging out with everyone here. There are a lot of people here that I only see once a year.”