Special Olympics Colorado Winter Games return to Copper Mountain this weekend | SummitDaily.com

Special Olympics Colorado Winter Games return to Copper Mountain this weekend

The annual Special Olympics Colorado Winter Games return to Copper Mountain Resort this weekend, Feb. 24 and 25, as more than 225 Special Olympics athletes from across the state are expected to attend.

The athletes will take part in Alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, snowboarding and snowshoe disciplines with the aid of 150 supportive family members also in attendance and 75 Special Olympics coaches.

The Colorado Winter Games are also well known for a substantial volunteer effort. This year 300 volunteers are helping with the event's setup, registration, course support, tear-down and more.

The opening ceremony will take place on Saturday at 6 p.m. in Burning Stones Plaza and will also feature a ski-down and lighting of the cauldron. This year's family reception will follow, from 7:30-9 p.m. in the Copper Conference Center.

“It’s beyond the skiing. It’s about the community and progression of these athletes.”Pam SmithMother of Special Olympian

Recommended Stories For You

This year's games will feature foot and dental health screenings free to the athletes on Saturday from 1:30-5:30 p.m. During the same time on Saturday, Special Olympics athletes will have the opportunity to take part in the "Olympic Town" experience in the BigHorn Ballroom.

Of the hundreds of stories that make the Special Olympics Colorado Winter Games special, here are a couple that summarize the essence of the annual event at Copper Mountain:

-Mike Gagliardi, a coach of three years with the Pikes Peak Shredders snowboard team, has fond memories of the first time his son Troy competed in a snowboarding event, his son's first sporting event of any kind in his life.

"At the 2016 Winter Games at Copper, Troy was 8 years old and won two gold medals in his events and was so proud to receive them," Gagliardi said. "The smile on his face when he received his medals was amazing. He had so much fun competing, and to be rewarded with gold for his efforts was awesome."

-Jeff Gregory has competed as an Alpine athlete for 36 years. And Gregory credits Special Olympics Colorado for helping him find a passion in skiing. His mother, Pam Smith, sees Copper Mountain as going out of its way to make it easy for the athletes to train by providing the space to come together as a community and the facilities that offer progression.

"Going up on the mountain, Copper has the appropriate courses to meet the athletes needs," Smith said. "It has been really important. I've watched Jeff go from the beginner race course over to the intermediate. It's beyond the skiing. It's about the community and progression of these athletes."

"Copper has challenging runs which forces me to get better at snow skiing," Gregory said. "The Copper staff really does a great job with the Winter Games, including the torchlight parade down the mountain and fireworks."