Aspen Winter Games
Frequently Asked Questions
Click Question to expand
+ What is the Aspen Winter Games?
The Aspen Winter Games Program is an 8-day adaptive snowboard and ski recreation program held every year for over 250 participants, including children, their medical team, instructors, and volunteers. Children living with cancer or another life-threatening illness are taken to the slopes in Aspen and given everything they need to ski or ride, including lift tickets, gear, lodging, meals, transportation, and one-on-one adaptive lessons. Kids also enjoy dance parties, music lessons, movie nights, swimming, campfires, snowmobiling, yoga, crafts, and games.
The emphasis of the week is on empowering each child and giving them a sense of hope, by pushing them to accomplish things on the mountain that they never thought possible. Activities also bond children with one another, giving them life-long relationships through which they gain strength and support for the journey ahead. Each child learns to focus on all that they can do, rather than their limitations.
+ How is the Aspen Winter Games program funded?
As you might imagine, it costs a lot to put on this intensive, one-of-a-kind, life-changing event for a group of wonderful children who have been through extraordinary health challenges. Because the program is just for the children with the cancer or life-threatening illness, we must bring an entire Medical Team of doctors, nurses and Child Life Specialists to provide care for their complex medical needs. We require one medical team member for every three children. We also provide very individualized ski and snowboard instruction because of their complex medical and physical challenges. Another group of adult volunteers, called Aspen Buddies, act as a bridge between the Aspen community and the children.
In addition, we provide the children with all transportation, meals, lodging, gear, and ski passes. And there are also myriad of evening activities we provide that serve to encourage them to move out of their comfort zone and become socially confident again.
It takes a lot of money to fund such a comprehensive program but the results are incomparable. The Shining Stars Foundation has an active fundraising program to ensure the continued excellence of its programs. However, the Winter Games event is by far the most resource intensive.
In addition, we are always receiving requests from hospitals located outside of Colorado to have their children participate, as the reputation of the Aspen Winter Games has spread from coast to coast. Because of this and the continued escalation of costs inherent in sponsoring such an event, we require local funding to serve children being treated at hospitals outside of Colorado.
+ Is the Aspen Winter Games an inclusive program
Of course! Shining Stars Foundation does not and shall not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion (creed), gender, gender expression, age, national origin (ancestry), disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or military status, in any of its activities or operations.
+ Who is eligible to attend the Aspen Winter Games as a participant?
Children ages 8-18 who are battling cancer or another life-threatening illness may apply. Currently, we provide services primarily to families in Colorado. Other geographic regions currently served include: Arizona, Illinois, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Indiana.
Decisions are made on a case by case basis and dependent on if spaces are available. We do are best to serve every child/family in need who meets our requirements.
Families and kids are also welcome to apply at: www.ShiningStarsFoundation.org/refer-a-childfamily
Shining Stars Foundation does not and shall not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion (creed), gender, gender expression, age, national origin (ancestry), disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or military status, in any of its activities or operations.
+ What does it take to put on the Winter Games Program?
The Winter Games Program is the most resource intensive program that the Shining Stars Foundation hosts. It takes a large and dedicated team to setup and put on the Winter Games, including over 600 volunteers, local businesses, supporters, and in-kind donors.
Set up begins 4 days before the kids arrive to make the magic happen! A core group of volunteers transform the Inn at Aspen into our Winter Games headquarters, complete with our signature giant beanbag chairs for group meetings, a full adaptive gear set up for skiing/snowboarding, cubbies for each child, a place to feed up to 200 people at each meal, the famous “Captain’s” snack bar, and so much more!
To house the kids, our 24/7 medical team, and out of town adaptive instructors we utilize over 70 rooms at the Inn at Aspen and 30 rooms of donated off site housing.
The number of people that are at the Winter Games each day can reach as high as 300 people. The Foundation offers breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks throughout the day to participants and volunteers. That is up to 175 people per meal, or 500+ individual meals provided each day! We are very fortunate to have Aspen volunteers who serve meals and local business who donate meals to keep our costs at a minimum.
+ How do you make sure the program is safe for the kids?
We recognize that skiing/snowboarding is an inherently dangerous sport and we are proud of an impeccable safety record since we started putting the program on in 2001.
There are a few key ways we make sure this is a safe and fun experience for the kids involved:
• We have a 24/7 on site medical team of oncology doctors, nurses, and child life specialists to administer care to each participant under the leadership of our Medical Director, Dr. Larry McCleary. They are each assigned a group of kids to look after during the week and the medical team meets daily to discuss safety, challenges, and the medical needs of the group.
• All children stay at the Inn at Aspen, which is at the base of Buttermilk Mountain, just a few steps away from the chair lift. Having a ski in-ski out set up allows kids to come in at any point in the day to access medical care or simply rest. • Children are NEVER allowed to ski without their (1) Shining Star instructor and (2) helmet.
• We only assign 1 or 2 kids to each adaptive instructor, ensuring participants have full attention and support while they learn to ski or snowboard.
• We have over 100 pieces of adaptive equipment available (including sit skis, ski bikes, tethers, and sliders) that are utilized with nearly every participant to meet their unique physical needs. This ensures we can safely make skiing/snowboarding accessible to these kids no matter their physical limitations or challenges.
+ How can I get involved with the Aspen Winter Games program?
Email Rosemary@ShiningStarsFoundation.org or call 970-726-8009 to get more information on volunteering with SSF! Please note: Volunteers must complete a background check and submit an application.
+ What volunteer roles exist at Winter Games?
• Adaptive Ski/Snowboard Instructors: We have 70 – 80 volunteer ski and snowboard instructors on site throughout the week.
• Aspen Buddies: Our Aspen Buddies essentially fill the role of “camp counselor”. Each buddy is assigned a group of 3-6 kids who they check in with multiple times each day to make sure each child’s needs are met and that they are having a great time! They are our eyes and ears on the kids throughout the week.
• Medical Team: We have a 24/7 on site medical team of 15 – 20 oncology doctors, nurses, and child life specialists to administer care to each participant.
• General Volunteers: We have over 75 additional volunteers assisting throughout the week with serving meals, handing out snacks, cleaning, setting up for activities, greeting guests, assisting with pool duty, and much more!
+ Why does The Shining Stars Foundation run background checks on volunteers?
Our number one priority is the safety and happiness of the Shining Star kids who come to our programs. We require extensive background checks for anyone who will be working directly with the kids at Winter Games or any of our programs.
+ Why do I have to wear my nametag at all times?
To ensure safety and ensure we know exactly who is around the program and the kids, we REQUIRE (no exceptions) that all volunteers wear their nametag at all times. With such a large program, this helps us keep track of everyone and this helps us recognize if someone who is not with our group wanders in. Please note, you must have a nametag to join us for meals or you will be turned away at the door.
+ Can a child under the age of 18 volunteer? ?
Yes! We welcome volunteers age 18 and under, however, we require that the child volunteers with his/her parent or guardian. They cannot volunteer alone, no exceptions.
+ How are the volunteer instructors selected and how do they qualify?
We have an amazing group of volunteer instructors, some of whom have been with the Shining Stars Foundation since our founding in 2001. Our team of volunteer instructors comes from all over the U.S. Our instructors are hand-picked based on their teaching abilities, formal training, involvement with other ski/adaptive programs, and their knowledge of the latest adaptive techniques. We choose instructors who we know will ignite in our Shining Stars a love of skiing, boarding, or whichever snow sport they specialize in.
It is so important to the success of the event for our instructors not only to be experts in the field of adaptive snow-sports, but also to bring a high degree of positivity, passion and flexibility to the program.
Even if an instructor meets all of these qualifications, they may not be selected for the program. The number of instructors we invite depends on:
(1) Lodging availability
(2) Number of kids we can serve, which is based on funding
(3) Number of instructor applications we receive
+ Do we require our volunteer instructors to attend a clinic or get validation to instruct at the Winter Games?
Yes. We require that all instructors submit a Shining Stars Instructor Experience Form to be considered to attend Winter Games.
This form outlines an instructors’ strengths and helps us to make successful matches between a Shining Star student and instructor.
We offer two options to get this form completed:
(1) Attend a FREE Shining Stars skills validation clinic
(2) Ask the supervisor at the ski or snowboard school you work for, or volunteer for, to complete the form and submit it
We are always striving to ensure our instructors have the best and most up-to-date adaptive techniques to use in their lessons. We want the kids to have a safe, fun, and successful experience, and this validation process helps us to ensure that!
+ How are instructor duties assigned?
We provide all lodging, meals and activities for out-of-town ski instructors who take the time out of their busy lives to come and teach at Winter Games. In return, we ask that instructors handle some extra off-mountain volunteer duties. Honestly, joining in and helping makes the week even more fun for everyone involved! We will assign each volunteer instructor to a team, and that team will be responsible for all of the extra duties for one day of the week, including clean up, set up, and activities. Each team will have a team leader who will help to divide up work and make sure everything gets done.
+ Why aren’t all your instructors local to Aspen? Why bring in instructors from out of town?
We work with a lot of local, Aspen based instructors and seek to work with the local community as much as possible. However, our need for adaptive instructors currently exceeds the number of qualified volunteers we are able to get locally. We host Winter Games at the BUSIEST time of the year in Aspen for professional instructors – spring break! For this reason, it is often challenging to ask local instructors with paid work to volunteer with us for 8 days straight. We are lucky to be able to work with both local and out-of-town instructors to make this event a success!
Many of our Shining Stars kids suffer from an apparent physical or cognitive disability, such as amputations or vision impairment. These students require additional adaptive equipment to attain success on the slopes. Our instructors are experts in identifying and employing proper adaptive equipment.
While some Stars do not suffer from apparent physical or cognitive disabilities, it is often the invisible side-effects (balance issues, quickened fatigue, nerve damage etc.) that require a specialists’ eye on the mountain, to identify and account for these issues.
+ How is instructor housing assigned?
Each year, we are lucky to have local hotel partners who help provide lodging. Depending on the availability of donated rooms, we assign instructors to off-campus lodging locations in Aspen and Snowmass. If lodging is short, we often have to pay for rooms at The Inn at Aspen. Instructors who are assigned to be at the Inn at Aspen are asked to chip more with volunteer duties, for the privilege and convenience of getting to stay “on-campus”.
+ What is a typical day for a Shining Star?
The day starts off with a hearty breakfast and then off to the slopes for a full day of ski or snowboard instruction, with a mid-day break for lunch. Participants can come in and relax during the day if they need a break - We have board games, movies (on extra cold/snowy days) or they can just hang out with fellow Shining Stars, their instructor, or Aspen Buddy. Later in the afternoon, kids can grab a snack at “Captain’s Snack Shack”, get a milkshake at the “Star Bar” or enjoy some time swimming (it’s heated, don’t worry!).
Next the kids clean up and grab dinner, and then it’s off to more activities including: orientation games at “Frog Adventureland”, bingo/poker night (complete with prizes!), the best Disco Dance Party ever, arts and crafts, snowmobiling, the famous “Shining Stars Got Talent” talent show, a magic show with Doc Eason, rides in the Ultimate Taxi, stargazing, late night pizza snacks, and more!
The week culminates in an Olympic style race down the slopes and an unforgettable banquet that evening at the St. Regis, where we recognize each child for his/her accomplishments throughout the week.
Every day has an activity that each child will remember for his or her lifetime. The activities seem endless, but this is what the Winter Games are about.
+ What is provided for the Shining Stars to make their ski trip a success?
Throughout the week, we provide all lodging, transportation, meals, ski passes, equipment, extra warm and water proof ski clothes – you name it, we got it! This program is all-inclusive and offered at NO COST to the Shining Stars, medical staff and volunteer instruction team.
+ Can my child attend the Winter Games Program more than once?
Due to the demand for this unique program, we are only able to provide this once-in-a-lifetime experience to each child once. We have so many brand-new applicants who apply to the program each year, that we must limit it to children who have never attended. However, Shining Stars Foundation offers other programs throughout the year for the entire family which you will receive invitations to. A majority of those programs you can attend as many times as you want. (Please note: These programs take place in Colorado)
Do you have additional questions? Email Office@ShiningStarsFoundation.org!