Exchange patrollers reflect on winter in Aspen |

Exchange patrollers reflect on winter in Aspen

Ski patroller Caroline Simond enjoys the snow Friday at Aspen Mountain. The 28-year-old is the first female patroller from Chamonix, France, to participate in Aspen's Sister Cities patrol-exchange program.
Jeremy Wallace |

After spending a winter in Aspen, one takeaway for Argentinian Rodrigo Arellano is that ski patroller is a respected position. The same can’t be said in his native Bariloche, where he’s experienced visitors criticizing the patrollers and the facilities where they work.

The visitors also don’t respect boundaries or the safeguards patrollers put in place, Arellano said.

“The skiers here have a different behavior,” the 35-year-old Arellano said Thursday at his Aspen Skiing Co. apartment at the Holiday House on Hopkins Avenue. “They know if you go crazy here and it’s closed and you get hurt, you’re going to have troubles — a lot of troubles. In Argentina, it’s different.”

Boundaries in Argentina aren’t as defined or consistent. But even when patrollers put up fencing and signs, people don’t yield. Arellano said patrollers have to be very careful when they close runs, because if someone finds even the slightest opening, and if they get hurt, they’ll claim it’s the ski company’s fault.

“They say, ‘I didn’t see it there. It’s your fault,’” Arellano said. “These people go to a judge, probably it’s going to be the ski company’s fault.”

Arellano has spent a number of years patrolling in Bariloche and Andorra, a resort located between France and Spain in the Pyrenees mountains. Four months of winter in Andorra is usually followed by six months in Patagonia and two months of vacation after that.

This winter, he spent his first season in Aspen through the Sister Cities ski patrol-exchange program. His wife and son joined him in March, and they began their return trip Friday to Argentina, where Arellano, who started skiing when he was 4, will begin another season the first week of May.

During his time patrolling Aspen Highlands this year, he said he made about seven rescues. The story is a little different in Andorra or Bariloche, where he said he might make that same amount of rescues in one day. Deploying 35 toboggans in a day is not unheard of, Arellano said.

Caroline Simond, the program’s first female patroller from Chamonix, France, said Arellano’s experiences elsewhere are similar to those at her home resort: People have a hard time following boundaries, which are often loosely defined. Even so, she said rescues in Chamonix are pretty straightforward. On Aspen Mountain, where she has worked since November, she’s had to adjust to the amount of information a patroller is required to relay in a rescue. Pinpointing an injured skier and relaying the conjunction requires multiple numbers and slope names, she said.

“(In Chamonix), you just have the name of the slope. Sometimes you have a number,” the 28-yeard-old Simond said.

Unlike Arellano, Simond has no family of her own, so she’s taken some time to travel during her first trip to the U.S. Before arriving in Aspen, she visited New York, Moab and Zion, Utah, among other places. When she leaves, she plans to visit Yellowstone, San Francisco, Yosemite, Las Vegas, Denver and Miami.

Both Arellano and Simond said there was an adjustment for the first month while working here. Arellano found it hard to understand the messages relayed over his radio, while Simond said people spoke too fast in general.

“After two months, now I understand the people,” Simond said, adding that it’s been awhile since she’s been in school practicing English.

An ideal work day for Simond started with opening the bowl, sweeping it and taking as many laps as possible. On those days, she was able to get two runs in on the bowl before anyone else touched it. Likewise, Arellano said he tried to sweep the bowl twice every day.

Arellano arrived here Nov. 10 for medical training and a month of boot-packing the bowl. He said he hadn’t anticipated what boot-packing entailed.

“For me, it was a challenge. The altitude and walk all day — going down, going down, going up, going up, going up — was a huge challenge for me,” Arellano said of his seven-hour days packing the bowl.

Both Arellano and Simond noted how friendly people are in Aspen, with Arellano saying the patrol team made him feel like he had been working here for 20 years. Both said they’d like to spend another winter in the U.S., but acquiring a work visa can be difficult. The exchange program only allows for one season.

“The people — just wow,” Simond said. “I would like to spend (another winter in the U.S.). I think not next winter, but why not after?”

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