Why Sherpas on Everest Are Dressed like Vail Ski Instructors
The word “swag” tends to mean different things to different people. To millennials, for instance, it’s truncated slang for “swagger,” someone’s uber-cool demeanor. To ski bums, it’s the acronym for Stuff We Always Get—particularly when you work on-mountain for Vail Resorts and are gifted a brand-new Helly Hansen uniform every three to five years. To Cheryl Jensen, that outerwear turnover gave new meaning to the term—and the birth of a nonprofit: Sharing Warmth Around the Globe, which donated its three-hundred thousandth used ski resort uniform in Ethiopia this past fall.
It’s kind of a funny story, reflects Jensen, whose husband Bill—CEO and partner of Telluride Ski & Golf Club and a 2019 Colorado Snowsports Hall of Famer—took over as chief operating officer of Vail Mountain in the late ’90s. “Bill came home from work one day and said to me, ‘Do you know that the company is spending thousands of dollars to store old ski coats in trucks in the maintenance yard?’” she recalls. Betting that mountain of cast-off corporate outerwear—patrol and ski school uniforms costing several hundred dollars apiece from sought-after brands—could be put to better use by Sherpas and third-world mountain guides who often lacked adequate warm clothing, she founded SWAG in their garage and started sending the gear overseas. The first shipment found its way up to remote villages in the mountains of Nepal in 2000, with subsequent coat deliveries to needy (and cold) communities in Kosovo and Tajikistan that same year, followed by skiwear drop-offs in Mongolia and Afghanistan the year after that. As word of Vail’s “coat lady” spread (along with photos of guides on Kilimanjaro sporting VR-branded gear), Jensen started receiving boxes (and boxes and boxes) of overflow from resorts like Crested Butte, Telluride, and Jackson Hole, so many boxes in one shipment that she had to store the overflow in a hangar at Eagle County Regional Airport. Now partnered with the National Ski Areas Association, SWAG works with a myriad of international aid organizations that help clean and distribute thousands of uniforms donated from 192 ski resorts across the country to 26 countries around the world (a CIA operative even helped smuggle one shipment into North Korea, something Jensen says she only learned about a decade after the operation).
“Someone once told me that if you do something that is really about helping others, things would fall into place, and it’s the best piece of advice I’ve received,” she says. “The coat program was destiny.”
If you’re not a liftie or a ski patroller but want to be outfitted like one, consider the Vail Lifaloft Jacket, a skiwear collaboration between Helly Hansen and Vail Resorts for the 2019–20 ski season. Branded with a custom HH/VR/10th Mountain Division logo, each limited-edition jacket (made of Helly Tech stretch fabric and Lifaloft insulation, with pro-tested features like a Life Pocket to shield your smartphone from sub-freezing temperatures) comes fully loaded with an Epic Pass, plus a guided tour of Vail’s Back Bowls, first tracks with your fashion twinsy (a Helly Hansen brand ambassador), and lunch at The 10th. Better act fast: only 200 (100 for men in Blue Sky Basin blue, 100 for women in Back Bowls powder day white) were produced and have been distributed between four North American retailers (Paragon Sports in New York City, Peter Glenn in Ft Lauderdale, Sporting Life in Toronto, and Epic Mountain Gear at the Park Meadows mall in Lone Tree). Retail price: $1,052, the number of dollars matching the meters of Vail Mountain’s vertical rise, and eye daggers from your lesser-dressed peers in the lift line. hellyhansen.com/news/vail-lifaloft-jacket