The Utah Winter Games, the oldest and largest Winter Games in America, were organized specifically to help Utah win the Olympic Winter Games bid.

Utah had been interested in hosting a Winter Olympics since 1929, but a series of disappointments dogged the state's efforts until the mid-1980s.

A committee was formed to study ways to win a bid. One thing that came from the study was a proposal to start the Utah Winter Games. In 1986, the Games were started to show Utah was capable of staging a number of winter sports events simultaneously using entirely volunteer labor.

In 1995, Salt Lake City won the Olympic bid. Some credit was given to the Utah Winter Games.

It was pointed out at the time that the Games are a grass-roots organization devoted to generating awareness of winter sports, and that the Games should continue long after the Olympics are over.

This year is the 21st anniversary of the Utah Winter Games, and Heidi Hughes, executive director, said there will be more events that will allow Utahns to take advantage of the opportunity to use some of the Olympic venues.

Last year, the age range for participants went from 3 to 90 in 15 sports at nine venues. There were more than 3,000 participants last year, and twice that number are expected this year. There will be more clinics and events in every category this year. An added attraction is the fact that a number of the instructors in the free or low-cost learning clinics were either former or future Olympians.

Heidi Stangel is an up-and- coming member of the U.S. speedskating team and will instruct the beginning speedskating class at the Utah Olympic Oval. At the other end of the spectrum, former three-time U.S. Olympic alpine ski racer Heidi Voelker will teach a learn-to-race clinic at Deer Valley.

What this means is that complete beginners can feel what it's like to stand in the starting gate on the Olympic giant slalom course at the Park City Mountain Resort, or cross the same speedskating finish line as Joey Cheek, or stand on the same podium where Picabo Street once stood.

For more information, visit the Utah Winter Games Web site at www.utahwintergames.org.

"The Olympics are for the best athletes in the world," Hughes said. "The Utah Winter Games are for the rest of us."