Spirit of a French exchange
Ski patrol exchange program with Alps resort marks 20th year
Steamboat patrollers who made the exchange
Charlie Reynolds, Mitch Borocz, Jim Boyd, John Adler, Mike Figg, Johnny Sawye, Brian Seive, Amy Lawton, Pete Lewis, Ryan Thompson, Dylan Dearborn, Kyle Lawton, Jon Feiges, Deb Holloway, Chriss Parks, Claire Palmer, Tim Baldwin, Craig Olsheim, Greg Gunn and Ryan Luttrell.
During the 2015-16 ski season, Steamboat Ski Area celebrated the 20th anniversary of the ski patrol exchange between the resorts of the Belleville Valley — Saint-Martin-de-Belleville, Les Menuires and Val Thorens, which are part of the world famous ski area Les Trois Vallées in the French Alps — and Steamboat.
Each winter, a French patroller exchanges his job with a ski patroller from Steamboat.
The program began during the 1990s thanks to a few key people.
John Field, a member of Steamboat’s crew, had patrolled for a few years at Crystal Mountain in Washington and during his time there had the opportunity to do a ski patrol exchange with the Belleville Valley.
When Field moved to the Yampa Valley with his family to work at Steamboat Ski Area, he wanted to share that amazing experience so he approached John Fetcher and Steamboat ski patrol director Pete Wither. Field persuaded them to set up a ski patrol exchange between Steamboat and the French resort.
The first Steamboat ski patroller to cross the Atlantic Ocean was Charlie Reynolds in the winter of 1995-96.
“I went one time to France during college to ski in La Plagne, not far from the Three Valleys ski area,” Reynolds said. “The exchange was a really great opportunity to discover other mountains, culture, food and atmosphere.”
For every patroller who made the exchange during the past years, it was the unique chance to live and work in Europe that motivated them to participate.
“I love to travel, but I hate being a tourist,” said patroller Jon Feiges.
“The two ski resorts are very different, and it’s more than the job,” said Pierre Boulonnais, the Frenchman who traveled to Steamboat this winter. He also noted the “friendly acceptance” he received in Steamboat.
“There are some different techniques, but we do the same job,” said Kyle Lawton, who traveled to France twice for the exchange.
His wife, Amy, was the first woman to make the exchange during the 2003-04 season, when the French ski patrol was all male, which is no longer the case.
“French ski patrols have an exceptional level of job (professionalism),” Lawton said. “That’s why it’s important to continue this exchange. It elevates our level of professional ski patrol services, and the best that the American ski patrol culture can offer to the French is our level of customer service.”
Beyond the work, the exchange is based upon the principle of real sharing. French and American ski area companies provide the job, but it is up to the two patrollers who want to participate to organize the exchange — securing a house and car — to make life easier for his foreigner counterpart.
“It changed my perception of life in America when I came back,” Fieges said.
Serious relationships were also formed on both side of the Atlantic Ocean. Some patrollers met their wife or husband during the exchange, and others return to the Alps each winter to ski with patrollers who became friends.
After 20 years, the exchange continues to build bridges between mountains, cultures and people. So next winter when you run into a patroller with a curious French accent, don’t be surprised. He’s most likely part of the historic ski patrol exchange.
Enimie Reumaux is a French journalist who spent the winter in Steamboat Springs while her husband participated in the ski patrol exchange program. Reumaux also served as a member of the Steamboat Pilot & Today editorial board from January to April.
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