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SERIOUS COMPETITION WITH SERIOUS FUN. by bryan wendell • photogr a phs by w. ga rth dowl ing

BEACH BALLS FLY. Multicolored lights bounce in time to a youth-selected mix of Lorde, Mumford & Sons and Kesha. T-shirt cannons blast their bounties into the waiting arms of screaming teens. The convention hall is reverberating, but from

his vantage point alongside other adults in an out-of-the-way alcove, Winterfest chairman Scott Sorrels breathes a sigh of relief. It’s Saturday night, and the 40th annual event

is coming to a successful close. Winterfest, held in the mountain resort city of Gatlinburg, Tenn., brings together Venturers and Explorers from a dozen surrounding states for serious competition and serious fun. Explorers make up 60 percent of the attendees,

and almost all of them are Law Enforcement or Fire and Emergency Services Explorers. Exploring is part of Learning for Life, an affiliate of the Boy Scouts of America. In Exploring, men and women ages 14 to 20

learn about real-world careers while gaining life skills, citizenship, character education and leader- ship experience. That means even those young people who aren’t interested in camping or hiking can experience a values-based program that’ll help prepare them for life and a career.

Winterfest tests Explorers in situations faced

every day by their real-life counterparts: drunken- driving traffic stops, extracting victims from car wrecks, even getting dressed in a hurry to go fight a fire. The scenarios are fake, but the takeaways aren’t. Venturers, smaller in numbers at Winterfest but

no less active, choose from an eclectic mix of activi- ties. They build and race cardboard boats, go rock climbing, play dodgeball or just stroll around the teen-friendly environs of Gatlinburg’s main drag. Organizers call Winterfest the nation’s largest

gathering of Venturers and Explorers, a claim that’s hard to verify but easy to believe, considering an attendance of 3,105 young men and women this year. Sorrels helped plan the very first Winterfest in

1974, and he says it’s come a long way since that first year, which “was basically a DJ, a strobe light and a microphone.” “The first event was here in Gatlinburg and

could fit into a hotel ballroom at the Holiday Inn,” he says. “That’s half the size of just one of the rooms we’ll use this time.” Winterfest, now held at the 148,000-square-foot

Gatlinburg Convention Center, hasn’t just grown in attendance. This year, Explorers and Venturers choose from a record 70 different activities, a number that’s sure to increase next year thanks to



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