Vail Valley: Courage and laughter highlight 2010 First Descents Ball |

Vail Valley: Courage and laughter highlight 2010 First Descents Ball

Betty Ann Woodland
High Altitude Society
Vail, CO Colorado
Vail Society: Director of Development Karen Crawford, First Descents Founder Brad Ludden and Director of Programs Whitney Lange

There were more smiles than tears at the fourth annual First Descents Ball on Saturday night at the Ritz-Carlton Bachelor’s Gulch, which is just how First Descents founder Brad Ludden and his team wanted it. There was a feeling of can-do spirit in the air that was almost palpable as we learned about the organization’s mission, culture and magic. First Descents is committed to curing young adults of the emotional effects of cancer and empowering them to regain control of their lives by experiencing whitewater kayaking and other challenging adventure sports in a safe, fun and supportive environment. Magic happens when people are outside, learning a new skill set with caring teachers. The experiences FIrst Descents provides can be transformational –think Outward Bound meets cancer support group.

In Brad’s words, First Descents has built a culture that embraces challenges, pushes limits, restores confidence, forms a family and ultimately helps people live beyond cancer.

The entire evening was well orchestrated with a cadre of inspirational speakers. We heard from Ryan Sutter who expressed how he became involved with First Descents after three life changing events – attending the ball two years ago, having a friend be diagnosed with cancer and losing a child patient. A former First Descents camp participant, “Stiletto,” talked about having cancer and her path to healing.

“First Descents showed me how to reclaim my life from cancer and live it,” she said. “I traded in my stilettos and skyscrapers for booties, a personal floatation device and the mountains. I did not know it at the time but the first day of camp was the beginning of the rest of my life. I left so much of myself on that river, so much anger and fear. Cancer tried to take so much and I took my life back.”

Chairman of the Board Brent Goldstein spoke eloquently about the organization’s mission and his commitment to honoring his dear departed friend, Allan Goldberg. When he asked for the surviving campers to stand there were cheers, goose-bumps and tears.

It was great to see all the support from our local businesses. Of course, The Ritz rolled out the red carpet, Spago did it right with the appetizers and dinner, there were gorgeous flowers from Vintage Magnolia and a multitude of auction items from Vail Valley establishments. Even though First Descents has moved its headquarters to Boulder, Brad and his team have a special connection to the roots they established here in Vail.

“This organization was founded in this valley by people in this room,” Ludden said.

After a wild-ride of a live auction, Denver funk band Funkiphino rocked the crowd. A shout goes out to all the donors, bidders, volunteers and event attendees for being part of the First Descents family. Without each and every one of you the magic would not exist. To learn more, visit

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