Five years ago, a corporate outerwear supplier flubbed the embroidery on an order of jackets for employees of the Village at Breckenridge. Left with 300 soft shells that were essentially useless, Jim Myers, the Village’s warehouse manager, stashed the boxes in a corner where they gathered dust season after season.
Then last year, Myers decided to act. “I’d had ’em for a while, so I talked to my boss and asked if we could find a place to donate them,” says Myers, who has worked at the Village for 20 years. “We couldn’t give them to any of our employees because they didn’t want the old uniforms out there. We’d given some away to visitors from out of state, but that kind of dried up. It’s one of those things—I wanted to get some space cleared.”
Myers had heard about a program run out of the Vail Valley called Sharing Warmth Around the Globe, or SWAG, that sends used ski resort employee uniforms to cold-weather countries overseas. When he found out the nonprofit was still in operation, he boxed up the 300 jackets, threw in some winter hats, and shipped the gear to a warehouse on the Front Range, where it would be directed to a country in need. Myers later learned the jackets ended up in Ukraine.
It was the latest chapter in a two-decade run of global good by SWAG. This past October, the organization delivered its 300,000th jacket to a mountain community in Ethiopia—one of 30 nations that have received clothing from SWAG since the first shipment was delivered in 2000 to war-torn Kosovo. Founder Cheryl Jensen got the idea for SWAG when her husband, then-Vail chief executive Bill Jensen, lamented how much the company was paying to store old uniforms. She saw an opportunity, and the concept quickly caught fire. Now the National Ski Areas Association helps collect donations from dozens of resorts, and NGOs and other partners cover the costs of cleaning and shipping the apparel.
The jackets have outfitted the Nepalese Ski Team, have been retrofitted as blankets for Pakistani earthquake victims, and have insulated porters on Mount Kilimanjaro. Last year, the Village and Keystone Resort were among 22 organizations that donated 9,000 pieces of winter clothing. Vail Resorts remains a big supporter of the program through its EpicPromise platform.
Jensen, a longtime Vail resident, has helped to deliver garments around the world on behalf of SWAG, memories that drive her work today. “Five years ago I went on a coat distribution in Albania, taking hundreds of coats to a mental health institution where people were basically living in rags,” she says. “It’s just heartbreaking. So all of a sudden you provide a nice article of warm clothing. I’ll never forget those smiles.”