Local Hero: Cheryl Jensen

This lifetime skier gets instructor uniforms to those in need.

It was an ingenious idea for repurposing old ski instructor and liftie uniforms: Collect, clean and fumigate them, then donate each to the underprivileged in cold weather countries. In the process of establishing Sharing Warmth Around the Globe (SWAG) in 2000, and then partnering with the National Ski Areas Association a few years later, Sacramento native Cheryl Jensen, 58, struck upon another way to make a positive impact on the world. So far SWAG has shipped approximately 300,000 winter garments from 89 ski resorts to 26 countries worldwide.

During a 2003 meeting at the Pentagon, the current Vail resident and avid skier realized she could also use the healing power of the mountains to help badly injured Veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. In 2004, Jensen’s newly-formed Vail Veterans Program (VVP) flew seven wounded veterans from Walter Reed Army Medical Center to Eagle County Regional Airport, then taught them to ski, snowboard or monoski—all expenses paid. One veteran went on to compete in the Vancouver and Sochi Paralympics, encouraging Jensen to expand the program. Today VVP has provided physical and emotional healing for approximately 3,000 severely injured veterans as well as their families and caregivers, hosting 450 participants per year in both summer and winter programs.

Jensen’s circuitous journey to becoming founder and board chair of VVP included a stint out of high school working as a tour guide for Coors in Golden; then sales gigs at Squaw Valley Resort and Northstar California Resort for seventeen years. She is married to Bill Jensen, CEO and partner of Telluride Ski Resort, and recent inductee into the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame.

“Thanks to the resiliency of the human spirit, and the healing power of the mountains, we can focus on what these wounded veterans can do, not what they can’t,” Jensen says of VVP’s work. “We want to keep educating them off the slopes, assist in reconnecting families, and give them the tools they need to thrive.” vailveteransprogram.org 

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