The spirit of Pink Vail culminates March 26-28 with 10th and final ski day(s) to conquer cancer
Event known as world’s biggest ski day to conquer cancer celebrating 10-year anniversary, also its last
Mary Lou Armour, a top fundraiser for Pink Vail, remembers meeting a working single mom from Summit County six or seven years ago. Every day, she would drive over Vail Pass to the Shaw Cancer Center in Edwards for her chemotherapy treatments. Between her treatment, holding a full-time job and single parenting, Armour didn’t know how she did it.
But this was two to three years into Pink Vail’s tenure as one of the Vail Valley’s most recognizable charitable events. Money raised during the fundraiser directly benefits patients like the single mother. The Shaw Cancer Center was able to work with her employer to secure a paid leave of absence while she received her chemo.
“She didn’t have to worry that she had to work, and she could just focus on getting better,” Armour said. “It was such a burden lifted off of her. It was amazing. And she survived and did very well actually.”
Pink Vail’s 10th and final outing on Vail Mountain is scheduled for March 26-28. Participants from near and far are invited to pick a day to ski their local mountain as well, or participate in another favorite outdoor activity like snowshoeing or taking a walk. While the event’s COVID-modified format marks a departure from previous years, the spirit remains. Participants like Armour and Shelly Jarnot still plan on raising as much money as they can to honor cancer’s impact on their lives and contribute to local patients’ quality of life.
Shaw Cancer Center’s obvious offering is a medical one. Patients can work with surgeons, radiation and medical oncologists, experts in diagnostic imaging, pathologists, nurse navigators, genetic counselors, physical therapists and hospital pharmacists to determine the best course of action for their specific situation. But another main tenet of Shaw Cancer Center’s treatment philosophy is providing holistic, rounded solutions to patients.
Patients and their family members are able to receive counseling from Erin Perejda, LCSW, and Kristin Grems, LPC. They are able to work with a nutritionist on meal plans, work out one-on-one with trainers in the gym, receive massages to help relax after treatment. Of course, all offerings are COVID-compliant, and in normal years, there are often group snowshoe outings, yoga classes and more. Patients and their families can stay in Jack’s Place, named after well-known local Dr. Jack Eck. The caring house lodge serves as a respite for a patient and their caregiver needing day or nighttime lodging while receiving treatment.
All these services and more are offered at no cost to patients, and they can use them for life. One-hundred percent of the money raised during Pink Vail directly enables Shaw Cancer Center to provide these invaluable services to patients, who sincerely appreciate them — across the nine previous years, Pink Vail has raised more than $5 million. Some credit their successes to Shaw Cancer Center’s comprehensive offerings.
And that’s where people like Armour and Jarnot come in. Both have been participating since the first Pink Vail in 2012.
“I knew so many people in the valley that were battling cancer, and I wanted to help them in some way,” Armour said. “I thought (Pink Vail) was a cool way to do it.”
Jarnot was in Shaw Cancer Center’s survivorship program, Spirit of Survival, during Pink Vail’s first year. The longtime local received treatment for breast cancer in 2011. She was young and an active mother of kids ages 10, 8 and 6 at the time. By the time she completed chemo, radiation and had four surgeries out of town, she was “pretty beat up,” as she put it.
“I felt incredibly lucky and, I mean, given the size of our community to have that facility here,” she said.
The fitness instructors with Spirit of Survival worked with her to get back into the swing of things and return to full strength. Since then, she’s raised tens of thousands of dollars in the name of Pink Vail.
While she was receiving treatment, she was awestruck by how many of her neighbors, whether she knew them well or not, stepped up to help her family. They would drive her kids, drop off dinner, anything to help make sure life ran a little more smoothly during a stressful time. The Vail Valley’s helping-hand ethos, she said, is one of her favorite aspects of Pink Vail.
“I can’t believe it’s been 10 years,” she said. “It’s hard for me to believe that it grew from a small little event to something raising a million dollars.
“It’s inclusive of everyone,” she continued. “So whether you donate $35 and just sign up — originally it was $25 — or you raise $20,000, all those people are participating and contributing,” she said.
Cancer is a rare thing in that almost everyone has some connection to it — in a world divided by a number of factors, this disease is something that so many have in common. It can be a dark and sad topic, but that’s not what Pink Vail has ever been about.
It’s a tribute that started specifically for breast cancer (pink is the symbolic color of breast cancer) and has expanded to honor all cancers. There was an energetic buzz in the air on the day-of in years’ past. Pink Vail is still offering a costume contest via Instagram, so the pink gorilla suits, tutus and other bright gear on skiers and riders coming down the mountain will still catch the unawares by surprise. But when they learn why, they smile.
Armour’s group always had so much fun dressing up each year. One of her friends had received cancer treatment, and her team was named for her. She was from Fresno and wasn’t a skier, but she and her husband donated generously and would join the rest of the team up on the hill for lunch. In her donor package, she received a special survivor’s bandana.
“She was so proud of that bandana, she would wear it the entire weekend,” Armour said. “I know that it meant a lot for her to be honored in that way. It was funny how cancer could become something joyful too, right? But that day, it was a really positive thing.”
For more information about Pink Vail or to sign up to participate in this year’s event, visit pinkvail.com.