Group tries to revive old ties

Program promotes cultural exchange

Margaret Hair
San Martin de los Andes is one of two sister cities for Steamboat Springs. Organizers are hoping to reconnect with San Martin and Saas-Fee, Switzerland to restart the program, which has not been active since Sept. 11. There is an interest meeting in January.
Courtesy Photo

Get involved

To get involved with the Sister Cities program, e-mail Lou Mathews at loumathews@alpine.... Program organizers will hold a general interest meeting at noon Jan. 16 at the Bud Werner Memorial Library. Anyone interested in discussing possibilities for the future of the Sister Cities program is encouraged to attend.

— In 1989, a group of about 30 Steamboat Springs residents traveled to Saas-Fee, Switzerland, as part of a cultural exchange.

For weeks leading up to the trip, these people had gathered in an elementary school gym to perfect a square-dancing routine. They planned to share Steamboat’s Western heritage with the citizens of Saas-Fee, a ski town that recently had linked with the Sister Cities Association of Steamboat Springs.

The dance routine didn’t go so well – the hoedown music broke halfway through the performance, and Steamboat’s ambassadors stumbled through the steps unaccompanied.

“We were pretty pathetic, actually,” said Cindy Wither, who was on the trip and was one of the founding members of the Sister Cities program.

Wither, along with a small group of past participants, is gauging interest in restarting the cultural exchange that had her square dancing in Saas-Fee almost 20 years ago.

“It all depends on what the community wants to create and where they want to go with it,” Wither said about restarting the program. Through the 1990s, Steamboat’s sister cities program offered cultural and work exchanges with Saas-Fee, and later with San Martin de los Andes in Argentina. Those exchanges dried up after Sept. 11, as work and vacation visas became more difficult to obtain.

“When 9/11 happened, it just didn’t work anymore. It was so difficult to get visas,” Wither said. In January, a small group of Steamboat Springs residents will hold a meeting for those interested in bringing the program back to life.

Cultural exchange

The Sister Cities Association of Steamboat Springs got its start when a tourism representative from Saas-Fee visited with Wither in 1988.

The next year, a group of about 30 Saas-Fee residents came here for a two-week home-stay during Winter Carnival. As the connection grew, participants such as Dasha Durian – who said she moved to Steamboat in part for its international connection with a sister city – expanded the program to include temporary worker and student exchanges.

“It is a wonderful, broadening experience,” Durian said of those exchanges, which often placed a Steamboat resident in a Swiss or Argentine home. Paula Huselton, who worked for the Steamboat Ski Area in the early ’90s and still lives in town, spent about five months in Saas-Fee on a work exchange.

“I had just seen a notice on a bulletin board while I was working at the ski area, and I just called about it, and the next winter I went,” Huselton said. She worked in a hotel day care center and took any free time to ski at the Saas-Fee resort and take daytrips around the country.

“It was a really good experience to travel and live in another country,” she said.

Work exchanges likely would not be in the immediate future for a revamped Sister Cities program, Durian said. Depending on interest, the program might start small in 2009, with cultural exchanges or a pen-pal program.

“We just need community input,” Durian said. “If the interest is there, it can certainly be done.”

Lou Mathews, who originally is from Sweden and will organize the new Sister Cities program, said anyone who is interested in international relations would be welcome to participate and submit ideas. Wither said she hopes the program will continue with its focus on cultural exchange.

“It really is about sharing culture. That really is the whole idea behind Sister Cities, is just expanding our world,” Wither said.

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