Ten years ago, Vail local Cheryl Jensen learned the resort had been storing past years’ uniforms in onsite trailers, where they were gathering dust and keeping no one warm. She thought they deserved a better fate. “We found an organization called Samaritan’s Purse and sent about 7,000 ski jackets to Kosovo, just after the war,” she says. Today her charity, Sharing Warmth Around the Globe (SWAG), works with nongovernmental organizations, the National Ski Area Association and resorts across the country to get cold-weather gear to those in need. They’ve shipped 120,000 jackets to 21 countries, including to war refugees in Afghanistan and National Park Rangers in Mongolia. “We got a call from the Red Cross after the Pakistan earthquake in 2005 [which left more than 3 million people homeless]; we had jackets shipped and on people’s backs in 10 days,” Jensen says. “In a place like that, they’re wearing traditional clothing, but underneath it’ll be Fila or Ralph Lauren RLX.”
Four years later, a SWAG colleague in the Pentagon spoke with Jensen about soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, young men and women suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, amputations, paralysis. “They need to come skiing,” Jensen remembers saying.
In 2004 she founded the Vail Veterans Program, which brings soldiers from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center to the mountain for four days of adaptive skiing or boarding, all expenses paid.
“We have one guy who’s hoping to make the Paralympic ski team,” Jensen says. “Some of these people, when they first come out, they’re barely even functioning. And to see them move from that to the Paralympics, that’s powerful. That’s the true power of the sport.”
Photo by Bob Winsett