Vail Veterans Program brings another group of heroes to town |

Vail Veterans Program brings another group of heroes to town

Matt Lauer, third from right, host of NBC's Today Show was in town, and dropped in for a few runs with veterans from the Vail Veterans Program,, and founder and CEO Cheryl Jensen. The program introduced military wounded in the Middle East to snow sports such as skiing and snowboarding.
Vail Veterans Program|Special to the Daily |

About the Vail Veterans Program

• The Vail Veterans Program provides rehabilitative sports programs to United States military personnel who have been severely injured while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to the troops that support those efforts.

• The program is open to wounded warriors and their families, building confidence and hope through skiing, snowboarding and outdoor summer recreational activities.

• The Vail Veterans Program is a volunteer organization and hosts wounded military members and their families free of charge.

• Send donations or contact them at: P.O. Box 6473, Vail, Colorado 81658; 970-476-4906; email:

• Since 2004, the Vail Veterans Program has provided therapeutic, rehabilitative sports and recreation programs to severely injured military and their families.

• Throughout the year wounded veterans and their families come to Vail to participate in three, four, and five day programs including goal setting, adaptive sports training, family time, relationship building, and mentoring.

• VVP’s programs are free to all participants.

• The VVP also sponsors therapeutic retreats for individual families, provides psychologically healing services for VVP participants, and annually co-sponsors a team of military injured to run the Army 10-Miler race in Washington, DC.

VAIL — Vail Fire Chief Mark Novak grinned as he looked around at the organized chaos in his West Vail fire station. Every piece of gear was in the driveway, including the trucks. On the empty floor a couple hundred people milled around, talking, laughing, enjoying themselves and each other.

The firefighters were hosting the Vail Veterans Program for dinner on the heroes’ final night of their March session, as they have for almost a decade and a half.

“The fire service is centered around serving our community, and there are lots of great ways to accomplish that. There’s something special about inviting these heroes into our home and allowing us to be part of their stay in Vail,” Novak said.

‘They know what risk is’

“There’s something special about inviting these heroes into our home and allowing us to be part of their stay in Vail.”Mark NovakVail Fire Chief

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Guests eat, they laugh, they slide down the fire pole. When they ski, they want the most challenging terrain they can manage.

“No one is going to tell them ‘You can’t do that,’” Caroline Stone said. “They’ve risked their lives, so they know what risk is.”

Stone is a ski patroller and spent all four days with one of the veterans. A few years ago, Vail ski patrol legend Julie Rust mentioned to Stone that they could use another hand. Stone said she’d lend hers and has not missed a session since.

Ski instructor Miranda Hicks has been helping wounded veterans ski for years.

“I love it. I look forward to this every year,” Hicks said.

Most four-day sessions tend to follow a consistent pattern. The vets begin by falling on just about every other turn, she said, but they quickly get a feel for the mountain, for the equipment and for the wind in their faces.

Those faces, she said, are always wearing big grins.

“You see the progress, especially in their smiles,” Hicks said. “It makes you appreciate them, and everything else, even more.”

Such as everything in life, skiing comes more naturally to some than others. But eventually it comes to everyone.

“We always find a way for them to glide on the snow,” Hicks said, looking around the Vail firehouse at some of her students.

The good stuff lasts

Almost a decade and a half ago, Cheryl Jensen put together the first Vail Veterans Program. She, her husband Bill and a bunch of their friends did it on a whim and a shoestring with a dozen or so veterans.

The last night of that first year, the Vail firefighters hosted dinner in the firehouse, as they still do.

As that first dinner wound down, Jensen figured it was a one-time deal. But those veterans came up to her, one-by-one, and all said the same thing.

“I don’t know why you did this for us, but you changed my life,” they said. “Please keep doing this. I know so many others who would love this.”

And so Jensen did another, then another, then …

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and

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