Aspen mayor returns from Italy, gives Abetone thumbs-up |

Aspen mayor returns from Italy, gives Abetone thumbs-up

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
Mick Ireland

ASPEN – Abetone, Italy, might not be the perfect match for Aspen’s Sister Cities Program, but it is a “good fit,” Mayor Mick Ireland said after returning from the small European ski resort earlier this week.

Ireland, four youths with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club and their coach, Pat Callahan, visited Abetone last week. They were invited to observe the Pinocchio Games, a ski contest involving youths of 37 nations of the small village of 700 in the Apennine Mountains.

Aspen’s youths did not compete but were able to ski the competition course, Ireland said.

“They had not done a national qualifier,” he said, “but they got to run the course.”

The mayor, who is serving his third term in office, said it was his second time to represent Aspen in a visit to Abetone. He almost canceled the trip last week because he had a sinus infection. He recuperated to the point where he was able to travel and participate in various festivities and dinners lined up by Italian officials.

He said that while he liked Abetone, it is quite a bit different from Aspen’s current roster of six sister cities: San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina; Chamonix, France; Davos, Switzerland; Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany; Queenstown, New Zealand; and Shimmukappu, Japan.

Aspen and Abetone are going through a courtship of sorts. If all continues to go well, the two ski towns could become official sister cities sometime next year.

Ireland said that while there, he was interviewed by a prominent Italian ski magazine.

“Being mayor of Aspen is a bigger deal there than it is here,” he said. “You get all kinds of coverage. From that perspective, it’s pretty good promotion of Aspen.”

But his main reason for going on the trip was to evaluate whether Abetone would offer an appropriate exchange program for Aspen students, he said.

He said the Pinocchio Games were a much bigger event than he expected, with opening ceremonies, official dinners and large crowds of spectators.

“The Italian Championships of the Pinocchio Games drew almost as many spectators as World Cup does here,” Ireland said.

The mayor said he spent less time discussing municipal issues with Abetone officials than on his previous trip last year, or when they visited Aspen in November.

The mayor of Abetone also runs the snow groomer for the ski area, Ireland said, and he was busy with that and official duties surrounding the Pinocchio Games.

Abetone officials have said they are targeting Aspen because of historical and other types of connections. During World War II, partisans from Abetone and surrounding villages fought the Nazis alongside the famed 10th Mountain Division, the U.S. Army unit that formed at Camp Hale near Leadville.

While Aspen is named after a tree, Abetone means “large fir.” And it is the birthplace of Zeno Colo, one of the greatest Italian skiers in history, who won two gold medals at the 1950 world championships in Aspen.

Ireland said the Abetone ski area is relatively small, with lots of trees and few open spaces, especially compared with Aspen’s “power of four.”

“They have the power of uno,” he said.

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