It’s never too early to think about the ski season, and for two Challenge Aspen (CA) professional ski instructors, the next season cannot start soon enough.
In a partnership with the Aspen Sister Cities (ASC) adaptive ski exchange program, CA will be sending locals Cami Aumoite and John Klonowski to Bariloche, Argentina to volunteer as ski instructors, said Lindsay Cagley, CEO of CA.
“It’s an amazing program that has so many opportunities,” Cagley added. “In September, we will be sending two instructors to help out at Desafío [Bariloche] (DB) which is their version of CA. DB, essentially translates to ‘Challenge Bariloche.’”
Like CA, DB creates adaptive outdoor recreation experiences for individuals with physical and/or cognitive differences. Sister City Co-Coordinators Griff Smith and Lala Caffarone said that the two nonprofit organizations have been exchanging ski instructors since 2003, to create immersive experiences that strengthen global relations.
“We are working together and learning about our differences and embracing them and celebrating them as much as our similarities,” Caffrone said. “That is a way to collaborate toward world peace.”
Each trip is also an excellent opportunity for the programs to exchange education and other resources. In the fall, Aumoite and Klonowski will be teaching bi-ski lessons, supporting neurodiverse individuals, hosting an educational clinic for DB professionals and bringing tools to repair and update DB’s adaptive gear.
“The amount of equipment that CA has donated to Desafío is very impressive,” Smith said. “Almost every time we go down we take some type of donated equipment. [CA has] been very generous that way.”
Over the years, the relationship between CA and DB has been mutually beneficial. Most recently, CA received support from Juan Vargas, a longtime adaptive ski instructor from Bariloche.
“Juan came here and volunteered in our program for all of March ,” Cagley said. “He worked every single day and shared his skills with our volunteers and pros, and really helped our program get through what we consider a peak time — spring break — when we run out of pros and volunteers and we still have people who want to participate.”
Noting the significant shortage of adaptive ski instructors, Cagley hopes that, with this exchange program, instructors are encouraged to obtain their adaptive certifications. “It costs them time and money to get their certifications, but every level of ski instruction they have makes them more valuable,” she said. “It opens them up for more diverse work opportunities.”
As volunteers diversify their experiences, they bring new perspectives back into their local communities, which ultimately grows the adaptive programs. “Here in the states, we generally have more resources and equipment, but professionally, they are as great there as here, so there is a lot to learn from each other,” Caffrone said. “They manage to do a lot with a little, and that is a big thing to learn for our community.”
While volunteers typically fund their own flights, Cagley said this year CA is able to purchase Aumoite’s and Klonowski’s flights through credit card travel rewards. Once abroad, volunteers are funded by host families.
“It is very important to have the support of both communities in all of this,” Caffrone said. “We need people to take volunteers out to dinner or to help with other expenses for people who visit.”
Community members can get involved with ASC and CA by becoming members or volunteering their time. This summer, CA will host a variety of events to fundraise for and raise awareness about adaptive sports programs.
On July 22, CA’s performance of “The Greatest Showman”, featuring participants from its annual Magic of Music and Dance Camp, will take place at The Arts Campus at Willits. The following evening, July 23, CA will host the Denim and Diamonds Gala at T-Lazy 7, where attendees will enjoy dinner and dancing.
“CA and ASC can always use the community’s support,” Smith said. “It’s world education that we are working toward, so CA and DB align perfectly where we have the opportunity to share skills and resources to make for a better program.”
For more information about Challenge Aspen events, tickets and volunteer opportunities, visit www.challengeaspen.org
To become a member of Aspen Sister Cities or to learn more about hosting, visit www.aspensistercities.com