Cheryl Jensen, President and Founder of the Vail Veterans Program


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Who: Cheryl Jensen, President and Founder of Vail Veterans Program

All photos courtesy of the Vail Veterans Program.

Why I interviewed her: ‘Cause like I said a lot time before, skiing should be for everyone. There are many barriers to accessing the mountains, from the cost to the remoteness of many ski areas to the sheer difficulty of learning to descend the hill to an ingrained ski culture that often makes outsiders feel unwelcome. welcome. The disabled, who must access and learn to use highly specialized equipment and navigate a world of skiing served by lifts that is not necessarily built to serve them, are among those who start out at a huge disadvantage. The Vail Veterans Program deconstructs this puzzle for a venerable group of people with disabilities: U.S. military veterans injured in combat recovering from catastrophic wounds, Included but not limited to “loss of multiple limbs, severe burns, spinal cord injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, and traumatic brain injury.” The program transports these recovering injured to the Vail Mountain and, at no cost to them, welcomes them and their families for multi-day programs of skiing, healing and fellowship. I wanted to understand why they started this program, how they manage to do it at no cost to participants, and how the ski industry was building its overall ability to serve sit-skiers and others using non-traditional equipment or methods. There was no one better to talk about it than Cheryl Jensen, the founder and leader of the whole operation.

What we talked about: The unusual 4th of July holiday in the Vail Valley; the foundation’s roots in adaptive programs in Breckenridge and social events in Washington, DC and Vail; the chance meeting that launched the first event; how a one-time event with seven injured Walter Reed Medical Center veterans turned into a full-fledged program; the military centers the Vail Veterans Program works with today; how a first-time injured snowboarder turned monoskier in the program became a competitor at the Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014 Paralympic Games; what a veteran said to Cheryl to inspire her to make the program a full-time activity; how she felt when the first plane loaded with injured veterans arrived on the tarmac at Eagle County Airport; why physical limitations are only part of the trauma that injured veterans face; the healing power of walking the program with similarly injured veterans; the deep bonds veterans share across generations; Vail Ski Resort’s adaptive program and lift system and how it fits into the Vail Veterans Program; the growth of adaptive skiing infrastructure in the United States; Schusser’s exhilaration of never before at Vail’s Back Bowls in the span of several days; the challenges that skiers and others face in getting around the mountain and how this is changing; the power to quiet the mind through sport; how to maximize the value of a multi-day program while managing your own expectations, from a fundamental perspective, for what is realistic to accomplish in that time frame; the Vail Veterans Program’s relationship with the U.S. military and how they work together to choose participants; why Cheryl stopped calling the event “Soldiers Ski Weekend”; the veteran who swore he would have “died in the gutter” without this program; memories of a heliskiing adventure; how the program can include flights, hotels, meals, equipment, lessons and everything else for participants at no cost; the stress caregivers endure and why the Vail Veterans Program tailors separate programs for them; why families are invited with vets; the content of their summer programs; why an element of the program takes place in Orlando; and how the program and its former participants have handled shutdown orders and Covid-19 isolation.

What I misunderstood: I generically referred to all veterans as “soldiers” several times in the first half of the interview, before Cheryl shared an anecdote about the veteran who pulled her aside during a early event and informed her that Marines were not soldiers. Whoops. Well, I didn’t know that either. Consider me corrected.

Why I thought it was the right time for this interview: Because the ski industry declares its intention to make skiing more inclusive, we need to consider what that means in the widest possible context. In Storm Skiing Podcast conversations with National Brotherhood of Skiers President Henry Rivers and Winter 4 children CEO Schone Malliet, we’ve talked at length about skiing’s inability to market and develop more diverse skiers. While veterans themselves do not fall into this category, the Vail Veterans Program’s focus on the tragically injured among them highlights the importance of better serving disabled skiers in general. Additionally, this is the month the United States celebrates its freedom with the 4th of July holiday, and there’s no better time to thank our veterans for their commitment to our nation and the sacrifices they’ve made. have done in his name.

Additional Readings/Videos:

Learn more about the Vail Veterans Program:

The Low Pressure Podcast interview with sit-skier Trevor Kennison, who I refer to in the podcast. News about the Vail Veterans Program. To give.

Recorded on: July 6, 2020


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