Colorado Snowsports Museum inducts its 2023 Hall of Fame honorees
The Colorado Snowsports Museum on Sunday celebrated its newest Hall of Fame members. Vail Veterans Program founder Cheryl Jensen, ski mountaineer Hilaree Nelson, ski resort executive John Norton, trailblazing female ski racer Sandy Hildner, and ski writer and historian Seth Masia made up the class of 2023.
“This is the best day of the year, because this is the day we get to celebrate the sport we all truly love,” said Jen Mason, the executive director of the Colorado Snowsports Museum and Hall of Fame.
The evening was filled with speeches by impressive contributors to the fields of skiing and snowboarding, or sometimes their family members as their stand-ins, all of whom carried deep passion for snowsports activities that have shaped and pushed the boundaries of the sports as they exist today.
Renie and David Gorsuch were presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award for their lengthy support of the Colorado Snowsports Museum. In her speech, Renie Gorsuch spoke for both of them — David passed away in June 2021 — about the secret to the family’s successful ski shop business.
“We’re really not here today because of any brilliance. We simply showed up, worked hard, loved what we do, and we always surrounded ourselves with really great people,” Gorsuch said.
“We made every mistake you could make, but I think because of our (ski) racing background, we simply picked ourselves up, brushed off the snow, gathered our gear, and tried a new line. I think part of our success came from treating everyone like family.”
SOS Outreach, which was founded and is headquartered in the Vail Valley, received the Top of the Hill Award for its contributions to the development of skiing, introducing children who might not otherwise have the opportunity to ski or snowboard to the mountains.
“30 years ago, SOS Outreach was born from a vision, not just to introduce youth to mountaintop experiences, but to give those young souls who might never have had a chance an opportunity,” said Arn Menconi, SOS Outreach founder in his speech. “An opportunity to breathe the fresh mountain air, to fall in love with nature, and to learn that the world holds infinite possibilities.”
Mikaela Shiffrin received the competitor of the year award in absentia, but sent in a video that was played for the audience thanking the Colorado Snowsports Museum and congratulating the other honorees.
“I feel like it was just yesterday that I started racing on the World Cup, and started this journey,” Shiffrin said.
Event MC Chris Anthony announced the award would be renamed in Shiffrin’s honor going forward, to the “Mikaela Shiffrin Competitor of the Year Award,” to recognize Colorado snowsports athletes that might one day become the next Shiffrin.
“We will be looking for the next great Colorado athlete, and when Mikaela is available, she will be here to award that award,” Anthony said.
A video summarizing the accomplishments of each Hall of Fame inductee was played before introducing every inductee, typically narrated by another accomplished member of the ski community affiliated with the Colorado Snowsports Museum.
The narrator for the founder of the Vail Veterans Program, Cheryl Jensen, was slightly different: Hers was narrated by the current commanding general of the 10th Mountain Division, Maj. Gen. Gregory Anderson.
To the ringing of a plethora of cowbells, Jensen was presented with her Hall of Fame Award by her husband, Bill Jensen, a member of the Hall of Fame Class of 2008.
“More cowbell,” Jensen joked at the start of her speech, in which she discussed the trajectory of the Vail Veterans Program from its origins to today.
Since the program began in March 2004, the Vail Veterans Program has “hosted over 3,500 service members and their families in a variety of transformational programs,” Jensen said.
“Who would have had the thought that having an idea of sending retired ski instructor uniforms to cold weather countries through the Department of Defense would spawn an idea to bring wounded service members to Colorado to teach them to ski? Kind of crazy,” she said.
Jensen shared the stage with three alumni of the program, speaking a small amount about the relationships she had built with each of them, and ways the program had changed the lives of each of the three.
Speaking about Chris Fesmire, Jensen said, “I met him when he was laying in his hospital bed in Walter Reed (National Military Medical Center), just days after he lost his legs. I handed him a trail map of Vail, and three months later, he was here skiing in our program. And like Chris said in the video, skiing has changed his life. He has shared with many of us here that it has also saved his life.”
As she wrapped up her speech, Jensen asked the first responders and veterans in the room to stand and receive applause from the crowd.
The event left attendees inspired, and reminded of their zeal for snowsports as the colder months approach. Shiffrin shared her excitement about the transition from summer to winter at the end of her video speech.
“Gosh, guys, get ready for winter! I’ll see you on the slopes,” Shiffrin said.
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