Bonnie’s `Skiing Salvadorans’ bring Latinos into ski culture
Antonio Ramoz never saw snow in his native El Salvador, let aloneskied it. That has abruptly changed for the Bonnie’s restaurantworker known as “The Red Hot Chili Pepper.” Ramoz belongs to a group of Salvadorans working at Bonnie’s onAspen Mountain who have embraced skiing this winter after a gentlepush down the slopes by Bonnie Rayburn. “This never would have happened without Bonnie taking the bullby the horns and just throwing them in lessons,” said Isabel Day,an Aspen Mountain ski patroller who is working to assimilate theRoaring Fork Valley’s Latinos into the ski culture. Rayburn, a former 17-year managing partner of the restaurant thatbears her name and a current consultant there, hired six nonskiingSalvadorans this year out of desperation. Mountain restaurants typically don’t hire nonskiers because itrequires staff and time to shuttle them up and down the mountainon snowmobiles. Bonnie’s site is troublesome because there isno direct access from chairlifts. But Aspen’s labor shortage left the restaurant’s management withlittle choice this season. It’s a decision they haven’t regretted. The Salvadorans were greatemployees from the start, Rayburn said, and in January they eliminatedthe logistics nightmare. “I put it in their heads one day, `Wouldn’t you like to ski?'” said Rayburn. Their response was less than enthusiastic. “I asked again a week later and they said, si, si.” All six Salvadorans took advantage of an Aspen Skiing Co. policythat allows its workers to take free skiing lessons. Rayburn escortedthem to Buttermilk for a session with a Spanish-speaking instructorand the restaurant kept them on the clock so they wouldn’t losewages. Bonnie’s employees contributed money from their tip jar to rentequipment. “It was definitely hard and very strange,” said Ramoz, who wasinterviewed with ski patroller Day as translator. “But by 2:30in the afternoon we had been skiing for a while and didn’t wantto quit.” Ramoz, 19, smiled for about 15 minutes straight while relatinghis skiing experiences. “I never thought I would try it,” he said. “My friends don’t believeit, they don’t believe I’m skiing.” He sent a photo of himself on skis back to his friends and familyin the village of Chapeltique, in the San Miguel region of ElSalvador. Since the first lessons in January, skiing has become more thanjust a way to get to and from work six days per week. He sometimesskis on his only day off. Ramoz and the other Salvadorans inherited skis, boots and polesfrom patrollers and friends of Rayburn’s who heard about the effort.The Thrift Shop helped provide them with ski clothing. Ramoz found a fire-engine red, one-piece ski suit. “We call himThe Red Hot Chili Pepper,” said Rayburn. Ramoz laughed about the nickname and said it doesn’t bother him.He also came up with a great description of a “grande” accident.”I ran along the surface with my face,” he said of a face plant.All but one of the six Salvadorans at Bonnie’s have taken up skiing.They are informally known by Aspen Mountain employees as the “SkiingSalvadorans” or “Bonnie’s Salvadoran Ski Team.” Another member of the team, 39-year-old Jose Segovia, said sometimeshe goes down Spar, sometimes Ruthie’s when he heads down the hillfrom work. He’ll stop and take in the beauty of the surroundingmountains, he said.”It gives us some freedom,” he said. “I know I can get some independence.”I never thought I’d have an opportunity to participate in a sportthat, in my eyes, was so American,” Segovia continued. “The initialfeeling is you don’t have the right to ski.” Many of his friends here don’t ski for that reason, he said. Theyare also reluctant to try it for fear of getting hurt and missingwork. Segovia said he skis cautiously and tells them they can do thesame. Like Ramoz, Segovia spends time on the slopes with some of histime off. Today he planned a solo excursion to Snowmass and hewants to try Highlands once this winter. “I think I’m ready because I’m turning a lot,” he explained. Day said she’s skied with the Salvadorans and has been impressedwith how quickly they have caught on. “These people are blowing away some people who have been takinglessons for ten years and still can’t make it down Aspen Mountain,”she said. Rayburn said the Salvadorans’ skiing seems to have boosted theirmorale even more at work. “They aren’t just second-class citizens washing trays,” she said.”They understand now why people come here.” She and Day hope the experiences at Bonnie’s will spread to othermountain restaurants and Skico positions. With encouragement,they said, more Latinos could be incorporated into the skiingenvironment – as workers and customers. Segovia, who has a wife and son in El Salvador, isn’t certainwhether he will be back to Aspen for another winter. But his skiingexperiences provide “a great memory and a great story to tell,”he said. “How could you not like it?” Like Ramoz, he credited Rayburn with getting him on the slopes.”We’ve been so welcomed here,” he said. “The people who have helpedus are with God.”
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It might require a little extra preparation, but there’s no need to be afraid of colder months when going out fishing.