Chamonix, Aspen exchange ski patrollers each year – a perk, as well as learning experience
It’s the last day of ski patrol at Aspen Highlands for Clovis Ravenel. He will then return to Chamonix, where he is based.
Born in the French alpine resort enclave, he had been on ski patrol for six years before he got to take the jump across the pond to Aspen Highlands.
Since 1993, Aspen Skiing Co. and the Compagnie du Mont Blanc have engaged in a professional, technical, and cultural exchange of ski patrollers. The Aspen and Chamonix Sister Cities programs developed and administered the exchange programs.
The exchange grew out of a proposal from Chamonix Sister Cities to the Aspen Sister Cities. Sister Cities International was designed under President Dwight D. Eisenhower with the goal of enhancing world peace through exchange, sharing, and understanding.
Both patrols have shared over 26 years of cross pollination in trails management, avalanche control, medical response, and evacuation and customer service. In addition to technical skills, the patrollers have enjoyed common and uncommon customs, food, schools and sports, family dynamics, idioms, and humor.
“For all but two years, I believe, there has been an annual Aspen-Chamonix exchange except for COVID. Both Clovis and his Aspen counterpart, Tim Hugo, waited out two years of COVID in order to see their exchange come to fruition,” said John Armstrong, Aspen Sister Cities emeritus.
The exchange originally was only between the ski areas Aspen Mountain and Le Brevent de Chamonix. But for over 20 years now, the exchange has expanded to include the Snowmass and Aspen Highlands patrols. These mountains exchange with La Flegere and Le Tour ski areas. Both are part of the Compagnie du Mont Blanc.
The patrols rotate the privilege, so that there is one exchange per year.
Armstrong was enthusiastic about the return of the program.
He said, “Clovis made a wonderful exchange for Highlands. His wife, Anais, also worked at Highlands in the past.”
He added, “The beauty of the exchange is realized in the on-going relationships between patrollers and families. Exchangers have formed their own exchanges within their families sending children for vacations and schooling.”
The two towns of Aspen and Chamonix have been paired from the onset. Aspen Mountain ski trails and gondola emanate from downtown Aspen, and Le Brevent de Chamonix trails and telecabines begin just above central Chamonix. Ski trails descend from lofty summits directly into town, where modern cable cars transport skiers back up to their peaks.
“I arrived at the beginning of November and immediately began training with the Aspen Highlands Ski Patrol,” said Ravenel. “We began with boot packing and training with the refreshers. It was similar to my France experience with a couple different protocols.”
He worked in all departments of the Aspen Highlands Ski Patrol, with emphasis in avalanche control. He certainly landed on a good and busy snow year.
“I’m going to miss this powder. It’s been my favorite part,” he said.
He also noted how much quieter the slopes are at Aspen Highlands compared to Chamonix.
“There’s less people for sure here than in France,” he said.
Ravenel said the towns of Aspen and Chamonix are also similar, as well as the community feeling among the ski patrols.
“The ski patrol’s onus of mountain safety and rescue and sometimes lifesaving situations foster unusually close bonds between ski patrollers. The fraternity that has developed between the men and women of the Aspen and Chamonix ski patrols over the past quarter of a century of exchanges cannot be expressed in words,” said Armstrong.
“Patrollers have shared the joys of marriage, child birth, and career development and the sorrows of injury, separation, and untimely death as one family,” he said. “A patroller is welcomed into the community not as a tourist, but has the invaluable experience of living daily life on the inside of the culture.”
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