Sister Cities ski patrollers ready to head home

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

ASPEN – If memories of ski seasons blur over time, melting together like snow in a spring thaw, this winter at Aspen/Snowmass might stand apart, as distinct as a snowflake, for a couple of ski patrollers.

Cedric Gex and Mauro Urra have finished work as local patrollers taking part in a Sister Cities exchange program and will head home in the coming weeks – Gex to Chamonix, France, and Urra to Bariloche, Argentina. They’ll take with them lasting memories and lasting friendships from the experience. In fact, both men say they’ll stay in contact with each other, though they’ll depart for different continents.

Gex and Urra represent firsts for the program, though Aspen Skiing Co. and Chamonix have been exchanging patrollers for roughly two decades. Urra was the first participant from Bariloche to join the ranks of Aspen patrollers (Bariloche is Aspen’s newest Sister City), while Gex is the first second-generation participant; his father, also a ski patroller, took part about 15 years ago.

Now, Urra will take a short break before his usual winter season begins in June at his home resort in the southern hemisphere. He moves back and forth across the equator with the seasons, working nearly year-round as a ski patroller somewhere.

“I like snow,” he offered simply, with a movie-star grin, when asked for an explanation.

The Bariloche exchange is trickier because the two resorts don’t have concurrent ski seasons, but Aspen Highlands patroller Patrick Harris is scheduled to head for South America in June. Urra spent his season with the Aspen Mountain patrol.

Returning home from Chamonix will be Snowmass patroller Carson Spung, who traded jobs with Gex.

Gex, much like his American counterparts, will take up a summertime job – landscaping – after an offseason trip to Mexico.

Both Gex and Urra credit the exchange experience for a chance to study another patrol’s techniques and a different snowpack, and an opportunity to improve their English. With little prodding, they admit to partaking of Aspen’s nightlife.

“Yes, parties. Good parties,” Gex confirmed, tanned and beaming. The Frenchman squeezed in a trip to the Utah desert, too.

And then there’s the snow. Critical locals might do well to take a page from these guys.

“Here you have much better snow. More dry. Less wind, too,” Urra said.

Or as Gex put it, “The snow is very good quality – very dry.”

For both men, the camaraderie they found on the local ski patrols is the greatest take-away from the experience.

“I will remember the hospitality of the ski patrollers and the people in general here in Aspen,” Urra said.

Gex anticipates playing host to new friends when they visit Chamonix, and both men say they’d like to return to Aspen as vacationing skiers if they have the chance.

John Armstrong, who helps coordinate the Chamonix exchange as a Sister Cities board member, can attest to the lasting friendships the exchange program affords participants. A former Aspen Mountain ski-patrol member, and now a Pitkin County open space and trails ranger, Armstrong spent a season in Chamonix 19 years ago.

“I certainly gained an incredible respect for the French patrollers,” he said, recalling the physical demands of the job there.

“But the biggest thing overall, I think, is the lifetime friendships we made,” said Armstrong, who has hosted friends from Chamonix and traveled to visit them in France. “I would say, really, the friendships is the greatest thing.

“It sounds corny, but it was definitely life-changing. I hear a lot of people say that. It was just an incredible experience.”