Local restaurant owner makes it to Sochi as Olympic official
At the young age of 3, William Van Gilder donned his first pair of skis and hit the slopes at Camelback Ski Area. By the age of 16, he dropped the skis completely, developed a passion for snowboarding and soon after began participating competitively in snowboard events. Thirty-four years later, Bill, as his friends call him, became an Olympic official working as a member of the Independent Olympic Committee during the most recent Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. I recently had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with Bill at his family’s restaurant, Van Gilder’s Jubilee, located in Pocono Pines along Route 940, to discuss how he climbed through the industry ranks to officiate during the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games Snowboarding and Ski events, not to mention participate in all the excitement that took place.
Bill’s passion for the snow started early in life. By the age of 13, he was slowly starting to snowboard. Shifting his focus toward the board, by his late teens and early twenties Bill was competing both locally and nationally in competitive snowboarding events. Leading up to the 1998 Olympic Games in Torino, Italy, he earned himself a place at an Olympic qualifying event and a possible Olympic berth, although he eventually failed to gain that berth. Even though Bill did fall just short of making the team, getting to that level of performance in one’s career is a great achievement in and of itself. Later in 1998, Bill and his wife, Rebecca Van Gilder, started the Mid Atlantic Snowboard and Ski Series as further dedication and commitment to the sport he loves. An organization that they still operate today, the series coordinates competitive snowboard and ski events at various resorts throughout Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic Region. Increased exposure courtesy of individuals such as Bill and his organization is what has made snowboarding the sensation it is today. They are living a vision they saw and believed in years earlier.
While officiating in Sochi, Bill’s title was Technical Delegate, “the home plate umpire” as he liked to refer to it. Every event that is not judged involves three officials: a start official, a finish official, and a technical delegate. In this position, Bill was responsible for eight medal events within the categories of Snowboarding and Skiing. Among his responsibilities were building and maintaining the courses where needed. A good example was the halfpipe used for multiple events. If you watched the Olympics this past winter, you may recall how difficult this element was to negotiate because of the poor weather conditions. The climate in Sochi was especially difficult to compete in because warm coastal breezes from the Black Sea forced temperatures to stay above freezing for most of the day and night. A greater problem they experienced was the snow compactness. “Picture trying to make a snow ball with a flakey, sugar-type snow,” Van Gilder suggested. “It made for very difficult conditions.” The snow was treated prior to the Olympics with a chemical known commercially as SnowMax — to help it freeze at higher temperatures. This was done without the International Olympic Committee’s knowledge. Bill and the other officials were forced to inject water and different salt solutions to improve the snow conditions as best they could. When asked if he thought it affected competition, Bill responded, “It definitely made for difficult challenges, but athletes deal with different conditions on a regular basis, depending on what time of the season they are training. The athletes that can change and adapt to those conditions are the athletes that truly rise to the top of competition.”
Bill is now home in Pocono Pines working on the upcoming events planned through his organization. He is an active, integral part of the everyday operations at his family’s restaurant, Van Gilder’s Jubilee. “We work hard to keep our menu fresh, new, and interesting with the times.” What started off as a 16-seat, squeaky-door establishment has now become a family restaurant boasting more than 200 seats. He has hopes of making it to the Pyeong Chang 2018 Winter games in South Korea. A true model citizen of Pennsylvania, Bill has demonstrated how work and dedication to one’s passion can truly pay off, both at his family business and in his snowboarding career.