Spirit of Pink Vail: Catching up with some participants in annual ski day | VailDaily.com

Spirit of Pink Vail: Catching up with some participants in annual ski day

Tracey Flower
Special to the Daily
Gretchen Babcock and her fellow Rebel Yell teammates gather together for a photo at the 2016 Pink Vail event. Babcock said this photo captures the spirit of support shared and felt by friends and family after her husband, Judd Babcock, passed away from prostate cancer in 2015.
Polly Babcock | Special to the Daily |

If you go …

What: Pink Vail.

When: Saturday, March 25; check-in starts at 8:30 a.m.

Where: Pink Vail Headquarters is at the base of Vail Mountain at Golden Peak.

Cost: $25 to register.

More information: To register, join a team, donate or volunteer for Pink Vail, visit http://www.pinkvail.com. There is no deadline for registration — you can register all day on the March 25 — and the website stays open for donations even after the event.

Each spring since 2012, thousands of passionate, pink-clad skiers, snowboarders and revelers flock to Vail Mountain like an eclectic snow-loving breed of flamingo. They come with a shared purpose: to participate in Pink Vail, an annual fundraising event benefiting Shaw Regional Cancer Center’s Spirit of Survival program.

Many of the individuals who participate in Pink Vail — known as the world’s biggest ski day to conquer cancer — are cancer survivors themselves. Others are there to support friends and family members who are survivors and many more join to honor and celebrate a loved one currently battling cancer or whose life was taken by the disease.

For Pink Vail’s frequent flyers — participants who, year after year, rally large teams to raise thousands of dollars — the list of reasons for why they love the event includes at least one, if not more, of the above. Many of these folks are also in it because they see great value in the Spirit of Survival program itself.

The Spirit of Survival program is designed to address the physical and emotional effects of cancer and incorporates fitness, nutrition, physical therapy and a variety of support and wellness services. Programs such as this one aren’t typically covered by insurance, so the funds raised by Pink Vail allow the cancer center to offer the Spirit of Survival program to all patients free of charge.

Team Rebel Yell

For Gretchen Babcock, who was previously a Pink Vail volunteer and now participates as a leader for Team Rebel Yell, the services provided by the Shaw Regional Cancer Center and the Spirit of Survival program have personal significance. Babcock’s husband, Judd Babcock, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer in 2009 at the cancer center. He passed away in 2015 from the disease.

“The overall care we received was tremendous,” Babcock said. “We live in Edwards and it was so wonderful to have this state-of-the-art facility in our backyard and not have to travel to larger and more impersonal hospitals. I often liken our experience to the television show ‘Cheers,’ ‘where everyone knows your name.’”

Babcock joined by her and Judd’s friends and family have been Pink Vail participants for four years. They often surpass their annual team goal of $5,000; in the past two years alone they’ve raised about $70,000, Babcock said. Their team name, Rebel Yell, pays homage to Judd and the things he loved.

“The name of our team is the Rebel Yells,” Babock said. “Judd, born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, had a rebellious spirit, named all of his sailboats ‘Rebel Yell’ and it happened to be a favorite bourbon. His daughter, Isabel, designed a logo depicting a rebel soldier skiing. We also think this more masculine design promotes that this event is not just supporting breast cancer patients. All patients at Shaw benefit from the funds raised.”

Babcock said that Pink Vail is critical for sustaining the Spirit of Survival program.

“I think it is important for participants and donors to understand that our local cancer center spends a great deal of money on medical equipment, research and trained doctors and staff, all with the purpose of fighting this terrible disease,” Babcock said. “But to fully treat the patient, more is needed. The funds raised from Pink Vail are only directed to the Spirit of Survival program’s staff salaries and associated resources. Without the money raised at this event, patients and their families would not have these important benefits to get them through the trying times.”

Team Think Pink

Michelle Courtney, who owns Beaver Liquors in Avon with her husband, David Courtney, and leads the store’s Pink Vail team, Think Pink, also believes the program is a valuable resource for patients and their families and appreciates that the dollars raised stay in the community.

“At Beaver Liquors we love to support community activities and we like that all the money stays in the valley,” Courtney said. “Many of our customers have been touched by cancer. Me personally, my sister-in-law just died of cancer not even a month ago. It seems every year you are touched more and more by cancer, so it’s an important event.”

Courtney has taken her passion for Pink Vail and turned it into one of the event’s largest teams. Last year Think Pink had more than 100 team members and raised more than $17,000, she said. The team is family-friendly and anyone can join. Team members who raise $75 or more are invited to a free party at Route 6 the night before Pink Vail, on March 24 and also receive a team Think Pink accessory to wear at the event, though the details about this year’s accessory are a secret.

“We have something creative planned for this year, but it’s under wraps,” Courtney said. “We always give everyone on our team a pink accessory, like a T-shirt or a headband and this year’s is going to be super cute.”

Non-team members are welcome to join the party at Route 6, too, for a $15 cover, the proceeds of which go to Pink Vail. Also, right now Beaver Liquors is donating $1 of every bottle of AIX Rose sold in their store to Pink Vail.

Team Ski Patrol

Members of team Ski Patrol and Mountain Safety also know a thing or two about pink accessories; many Vail Ski Patrol and Mountain Safety employees can be spotted wearing pink name tags or with pink flags or crosses pinned to their uniform during Pink Vail.

This will be Vail ski patroller Alex McCaffrey’s fourth year participating in the event. He’s in charge of rallying the troops, as he puts it, from Ski Patrol and Mountain Safety and says locals should feel compelled to participate in the event.

“This event is great because the money stays local and goes directly to patient care,” McCaffrey said. “Chances are you’ve been affected in some way or another (by cancer), whether it’s a friend, family member, co-worker or you personally; everybody kind of has a responsibility to get out and show your support.”

Members of Team Ski Patrol and Mountain Safety don’t just wear pink in solidarity on the day of the event, but they also work hard to fundraise leading up to the event.

“We usually raise around $9,000 or $10,000,” McCaffrey said.

Two years ago, a Mountain Safety employees helped raise $6,000-$7,000 alone through a challenge program, McCaffrey said. Also each year, Ski Patrol sells a Pink Vail item, whether a T-shirt, hat or other accessory through the Vail Avalanche Rescue Dogs program, the proceeds from sales of which go directly to Pink Vail.

Ultimately, McCaffrey says, the event is a great community-building opportunity.

“It’s so cool on the day of the event to see so many different groups getting together to raise money for this cause,” he said. “It’s a fun way to raise money and it stays local and gets the community together as one.”

Team Vail Mountain Majesties

Linda Hanson, captain of the Vail Mountain Club’s team Vail Mountain Majesties, also appreciates the spirit of comradery on the mountain during Pink Vail.

“My favorite part of the event is being out on the hill with so many people with incredible stories of their own,” Hanson said. “You just feel really great knowing you are doing this to help people. And it is so much fun to see all the hysterical costumes. I’ve always loved the bright pink gorilla.”

This will be Hanson’s fourth year participating in the event. She said she got involved because “besides being a really fun and rewarding day, the cause is so important. Everyone has some connection to cancer, whether being a survivor or knowing someone in their lives who has fought this terrible disease.”

Hanson herself is a four-time survivor and has lost loved ones to the disease, including a close childhood friend.

“My very best friend growing up passed away over four years ago and I still miss her terribly,” Hanson said. “Her daughter came out from Chicago and did (the event) with me the first two years and we honored the memory of her mom and my friend, as well as ourselves and others who have fought the fight.”

Team Vail Mountain Majesties is smaller than others with only eight members at the moment, but they are certainly mighty, consistently earning top fundraising honors.

“I set our team’s fundraising goal at $20,000 this year, which is pretty high but hopefully reachable, and my personal goal at $15,000,” Hanson said. “I’ve usually been around the $10,000 mark and the year I was top fundraiser, it was a lot more than that. My first year, I was second then first, and last year third.”

In addition to taking home various prizes over the years, Hanson been awarded the Pavement Pounder award for each year she has participated; the award is given to the fundraiser who garners the highest number of donations (versus total dollars raised). She said she usually receives around 100 individual donations.

Hanson said she will continue to participate in Pink Vail for as long as she can.