Locally based group helps spread warmth around the world
December 13, 2013
VAIL — Never has SWAG done so much good.
SWAG is Sharing Warmth Around the Globe, a program that sends retired ski area uniforms and cold weather gear to remote areas of third world countries.
A few weeks ago some SWAG swag landed in Kathmandu, Nepal, as gear for the Nepal Ski Team. They didn't have much.
Vail's Cheryl Jensen was part of a group that spent three weeks trekking in Nepal. She knew someone who knew someone, and one of the women in the trekking party is married to the man who runs the Nepal Ski Team.
So, they set up a meeting and delivered the gear.
"The gear we receive, we use it for our athletes for training," said Bijay Shrestha with the Nepal Ski Association.
For the most part, the Nepal Ski Team members buy much of their own gear.
"When we handed them Spyder gear they kept asking, 'Is this real Spyder?' Yes, it's real," Jensen said.
"Our athletes are from different parts of Nepal, especially remote areas," Shrestha said.
The Nepal Ski Association brings kids from rural villages and tests them for other sports. It turns out that winter athletes need to be athletic in lots of sports, not just careening down mountains at breakneck speeds.
"As we don't have ski resorts here in Nepal, we have to send our athletes to different countries for training," Shrestha said. "We are doing our best to develop skiing here in Nepal from national and international support."
Nepal has lots of mountains and lots of snow, but no ski lifts. Only a few times a year does the Nepal Ski Team get to train on snow, traveling to different countries, Shrestha said. This past February, they went to Gulmarg, Kashmir, India.
To get there the skiers had to fly from Kathmandu to New Delhi, then travel 12 hours across land.
Still, they keep on skiing. The Nepal Ski Association has been part of the International Ski Federation for five years.
"They started from nothing intending to do something special for their country," Jensen said.
They have 20 kids on the team, but only one going to Sochi.
Dachhiri Sherpa will be in Sochi for the Olympic 10K Nordic 10K freestyle race.
SWAG started in the Vail Valley when Jensen started collecting coats to send to some of the world's poorest and most far-flung places. Winter will make several serious attempts to kill you if you're in a third world country without a warm coat.
In 2002, Jensen signed on the National Ski Areas Association as a SWAG partner. Since then, they've partnered with more than two dozen nongovernmental organizations to send winter clothing to 28 countries.
It started simply enough in 2000 when some Vail Resorts executives were ordering new uniforms and scratching their heads, wondering what they were going to do with the old stuff.
Jensen said she'd take them. She figured other resorts would face the same dilemma, so she put the word out to other Colorado ski resorts. Before you would say "toasty and warm," she was driving around Colorado in a U-Haul truck, picking up retired ski mountain staff uniforms.
That kind of time helps a person see things in a big way, so she figured if that's true in Colorado ski resorts, it must also be true in the other 114 ski resorts across the U.S.
Getting gear from here to there
The gear is delivered by all the methods you'd expect — trucks and planes –— and several you wouldn't.
Coats are occasionally delivered to Himalayan villages in Nepal on foot. Mules and horses have packed them in. Llamas also have lent a hoof or two to help get the warm gear where it needs to go.
The gear goes to orphanages, schools, and homes in remote villages in North Korea, Afghanistan and Eastern Europe.
A C-17 military transport plane from Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado Springs was loaded with 11,000 coats and tons of humanitarian supplies which it took to Afghanistan.
Then, there were the 4,000 coats that Eurasia Ministry and HELP International shipped to Eastern Europe, including Siberia.
The list goes on and on — 1,800 coats to Nepal, 6,500 to Poland and 8,200 to Mongolia.
"Working with SWAG has been one of the most amazing parts of this journey of helping others," said Jean Kay of HELP International. "The coats seem to bring a smile to every person they are given to. It's a way to really say, we care about you and what you are going through."
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.