Aspen to Bariloche: Helmets, goggles and the gift of skiing for all | AspenTimes.com

Aspen to Bariloche: Helmets, goggles and the gift of skiing for all

For poor children who live in Latin America's most developed ski resort, snow is something to endure, not something to enjoy, a former resort resident said.

"Kids suffer the snow," said Lala Caffarone, who is from Bariloche, Argentina, but has lived in Aspen for 16 years. "For them, the snow is just for the tourists."

But Caffarone and former Aspen Middle School Principal Griff Smith are trying to change that by strengthening a nearly 20-year-old program in the city of 130,000 that puts low-income children on skis. To that end, they've spearheaded a two-year effort to equip the program with enough helmets and goggles for the budding skiers to use.

"(Bariloche is) not unlike Aspen," Smith said. "(We're helping) the children of service workers that keep (the resort) going."

Bariloche is one of Aspen's sister cities, and Smith also functions as the point man and main coordinator of that relationship. The city is located in Argentina's Patagonia region in the Andes Mountains near the Chilean border.

The ski area is known as Cerro Catedral, though Smith said it is a four-season resort like Aspen. And like Aspen, the area is known for top-notch fishing, hiking, mountaineering and water sports, according to the city of Aspen's website.

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Bariloche's ski program, which began in 1999, allows all fifth-graders in the city's public schools to go skiing for four full days, Caffarone said. Approximately 1,500 children get to take part in groups of about 200 or so, she said.

"This program has the intention to show them the possibility of skiing," Caffarone said. "It opens a new world to kids for something that's right in their backyard."

The program not only decreases the gap between haves and have-nots in society, but also introduces children to the outdoors and a sport beloved by many while also opening up possible economic and job opportunities, she said.

"For the whole society, this program is very important," Caffarone said.

Rental companies offer discounted equipment, while children must come up with outerwear for the mountain excursions, Caffarone said. And that's where the effort to provide helmets and goggles comes in.

Argentinian regulations prohibit simply sending 50 used ski helmets or goggles to the country, Smith said. In order to get around those rules, Smith and Caffarone have been able to link the effort to provide helmets and goggles to a student-exchange program between Aspen and Bariloche, they said.

So now when 15 children from Bariloche come to Aspen to stay with families here every April, they each return with a helmet and a pair of goggles to contribute to the program, Smith said. And when 15 Aspen children head to Bariloche in October, they each bring along a helmet and a pair of goggles, too, he said.

So far, they've put together about 60 of each, and would like to build that up to at least 200 so every potential skier can have the proper equipment, they said.

Caffarone said she's joined the Bariloche fifth-graders and has seen the smiles and joy that skiing brings.

"From the mountain they can see all the poorer neighborhoods, and they point and say, 'That's where I live,'" she said. "They really appreciate it."

Anyone interested in donating helmets or goggles to the effort can contact Caffarone at lalacaff@hotmail.com.

jauslander@aspentimes.com