Two years ago Pink Vail burst onto the scene with 683 skiers and snowboarders bedazzled in varying hues of pink, and with a focus on breast cancer. Last year, the event more than doubled in size and raised funds cancer survivor programs at the Shaw Regional Cancer Center, part of the Vail Valley Medical Center. by Heather Hower
The event is known as the worlds’ largest ski to conquer cancer and a day when the mountain, and town, are inundated every shade of pink known to man. This is not a morose, sit-around and be sad event. This is a get-out, get-your laughter-on, find-your-most-outrageous-pink-outfit (think wigs, tutus, boas and the like) day to celebrate surviving cancer, supporting those who are still fighting or honoring those who lost their fight.
With a gentle Southern accent, Charla Blizzard explains she’s part of a club she had no desire to ever join—but it’s a club where everyone sticks together. The club? Cancer survivor. And just one of the ways members and nonmembers alike support each other is with Pink Vail, a one-day event to raise funds and awareness of cancer.
Lindsay Warner, Vail Valley Medical Center’s communications director, explains the catalyst of this event is to support survivors. When people are going through cancer, they have a lot support from families, friends and our generous community in general. Then, when they become survivors, the support wanes. The money raised from Pink Vail goes to fund the Spirit of Survival program.
“It’s hard transition to go from having so much support to being cured and (feeling like there’s) nobody around you and motivating you,” Lindsay says. Enter Pink Vail and the Spirit of Survival, which provides fitness and wellness classes, nutrition coaching, counseling, and even helps with the first, and often traumatic, hair cut.
“We have a partnership with Allegria Spa to help women get their head shaved for the first time, it’s a very emotional process,” Lindsay says. “They are certified and trained for women, all the programs and support are funding by Pink Vail.”
More than being a fundraiser, though, is all the support given and received during Pink Vail. “I cannot tell you the number of touching stories I’ve heard,” Lindsey says. There was a woman who survived cancer eight, yes 8, times and was skiing in honor of her friend in California who was undergoing a mastectomy. And the woman who just happened to be in Vail for Pink Vail and it was the first time she felt confident enough to show off her shaved head.
There are many stories, too many share, of people surviving cancer, or being there while a best friend beat it, or honoring a friend or loved one who lost the fight. Getting the diagnosis must be like a slam to the gut—deeply shocking and unbelievable but once they get their breath back, they’re ready to fight, and Pink Vail gives them the opportunity to do just that.
Lindsey relays this story: “The first year, we were setting up and I met a women, who said, ‘My friend died of breast cancer yesterday, this event was meant for me to be here, it helped me with my grieving process.’ Every time we do this it shows me again why we do it.”
Charla, a mother of three boys, laughs easily without any hint of anger at having had breast cancer and a double mastectomy. She is a supporter and friend, compatriot, and manages to see good in what happened to her. She has seen other friends go through cancer, and she believes by them seeing her—seeing her fight, survive and thrive—gives them a sense of calm, that things will be okay for them too.
“I really feel like phoenix rising out of ashes,” Charla says. “People can say, ‘She is still here.’ You don’t have to fear it, you fight it. It feels like this is happening, and it’s tragic, and it’s not a thing anyone wants to go through, but it helps people realize it’s fightable.”
Pink Vail allows it to be a family event, too. The average age of the participants is 43, with the majority women but plenty of men are tough enough to wear pink too. There’s been skiers as young as 3 right on up to 83 years old—after all cancer doesn’t play favorites. One of Charla’s friend’s sons organized a team and headed up a fundraiser at his local school. Last year, her 5-year-old who is not a skier, mustered up his courage and skied all day with his mom.
“I like that our area is small and there is so much support with people reaching out and trying to help. It’s so cool to see even children committed to this,” Charla says. “The community gets together to support everyone.”
So how does it work? Participants get pledges to ski Vail Mountain. You wonder how much a one-day event can raise? Quite a bit when everyone teams up together: last year 1,319 skiers and snowboarders raised $352,000 for the Spirit of Survival. The fund raising is amazing, but it’s the support that is truly astounding.
Don’t think you will be immune to reason for the day. Everyone chokes up at the end-of-the-day ski down, when survivors and friends, doctors and participants get decked out in pink beads and don pink bibs that proclaim who they are skiing in honor of—maybe their mother passed away, or a friend who was just diagnosed with cancer, or finally being cancer free.
“The ski down is pinnacle of the day. The ski parade is in honor and remembrance of people affected by cancer,” says Lindsey. Dry your eyes, though, because the day ends later on with a concert and a Pink Après Party—a true celebration of friends and surviving.
Want to ski for good? Here’s the fine print: Check out pinkvail.com, and put April 5, 2014 on your calendar and get ready to shred in pink. The minimum pledge amount needed to register for the event is $25 and a Vail Mountain ski pass or lift ticket is required for mountain access.